The Empty Cistern of Our Pain
he said mildly to them: Come nearer
to me. And when they were come near
him, he said: I am Joseph, your
brother, whom you sold into Egypt.
Be not afraid, and let it not seem
to you a hard case that you sold
me into these countries: for God
sent me before you into Egypt for
your preservation. ... Not by your
counsel was I sent hither, but by
the will of God."
Patriarch Joseph comes to us as a paradigm
of faith, mercy, and justice.
Joseph was loved by Jacob. He was the son of
his old age and Jacob doted upon him to the
growing resentment and jealousy of his brothers.
What is more, Joseph was "a dreamer", whereas
his brothers were ... practical. The world has
little use for dreamers, but God is sometimes
the giver of dreams.
Predilection – favor by God or parent – is so
often the occasion of resentment. We feel somehow
"less" and desire the place of favor, honor,
notability. Why God's predilection for Joseph?
Why not Levi? Simeon? Asher?
Having been sold into slavery by his brothers
– and only after Ruben and Judah had pleaded
for his life as his brothers threw Joseph into
a dry cistern in the desert to die – Joseph
had reason, just cause, to seek revenge, to
redress the injustice done him. Egypt was ever
in need of slaves, and under the good auspices
of Pharaoh, Joseph was in charge of Egypt ...
Gaunt, scourged by famine and burned by the
fierce Egyptian sun, the brothers came to Joseph
seeking the kindness from an apparent stranger
that they had failed to accord their own brother.
Most readers can identify with Joseph in one
way or another, for we have all known injustice,
cruelty, indifference. We await the denouement
that will slake our thirst for revenge, and
savor the irony. "Joseph will teach them
a lesson they will never forget!"
And Joseph does.
He falls upon their shoulders in tears ...
and forgives them.
Joseph was more merciful than just, and bitterness
had never taken hold of his heart. What is more,
Joseph's mercy was equaled, even exceeded, by
his wisdom, for he tells his astonished brothers
what each of us should tell ourselves in times
of adversity ... even extremity:
"Not by your counsel was I sent hither, but
by the will of God."
Where you are now ... that pit of despondency,
that crucible of pain is not of your choosing,
and if, by another, you find yourself there,
do not be deceived. You did not choose it. Another
did not force it upon you (although by all appearances
– much like dry cisterns – it would appear to
be). You are where you are for a purpose beyond
your immediate understanding. It seems impossible
to redeem, and no good can come of it for all
that you can see – and what of those who threw
you into the cistern, who left you to die, who
turned away indifferent to your pain, your fate?
Do you think that God will not use your suffering,
and even their malice, to an end unspeakably
good and known to Him alone?
In your pain do not imprecate those who have
brought it to you. Joseph had every reason to,
but did not. Joseph lived to see this act of
faith fulfilled. Another died in its fulfillment
... and like Joseph who prefigured Him, he,
too, replied to the presumption and the hubris
of his tormentor who foolishly thought himself
the final arbiter pursuing his own selfish ends:
"Non haberes potestatem adversum me ullam,
nisi tibi datum esset desuper." "You have
no power over me, except it were given you from
(St. John 19.11)
Understand this. There is redemption in
your suffering, but it will not be on your terms.
A far greater good lies before you than the
paltry immediacy of the lesser good that you
Geoffrey K. Mondello
for the Boston Catholic Journal