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Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Short End of the Stick?

A few days ago while flipping stations on my car radio, I came across a protestant preacher, and stopped to listen for awhile because what he was saying sounded interesting. He was talking about the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis, and how poor Joseph was "always getting the short end of the stick."  Not having heard this particular angle taken before, I listened, giving consideration to his thought process. He explained that Joseph always had things going wrong and about telling his dream to his brothers (about the sheaves bowing to his sheaf), well, he just needed to learn wisdom and grow up a little. He explained Joseph was an arrow being polished for the Lord's quiver so that he would be ready to go on God's time.

Ever since I heard that particular interpretation of Joseph's story, I've wondered about it, most particularly the "short end of the stick" part. Although Joseph went through many trials, could it really be claimed that he got the "short end of the stick"?

I decided to read that story again during Adoration yesterday and try to do so with new eyes.

You all know the story: Joseph is a child of his father's old age, so is a favored and quite coddled son. One night Joseph has a dream that he and his brothers were binding sheaves, and the all arose and bowed to Joseph's sheaf. His next dream was of the sun, moon, and stars bowing down to him, and this second dream annoyed even Joseph's father.

As I read that, I could see, of course, how Joseph was taunting his brothers. While on the surface he seems only to be revealing a dream, it's easy to imagine the not-so-pure fallen human using the dream against his brothers instead of simply keeping it to himself. His father's own reaction, rebuking Joseph, seems to support the fact that he did indeed realize Joseph was being a pill and was not merely innocently recounting a dream.

Joseph's brothers then went off to move the flock and one day Israel ordered Joseph to find them to see if they are well, and to bring word back.

This next part is fascinating, for it seems out of place:

Gen 37:14-17
So he sent him from the valley of Hebron and he came to Shechem. And a man found wandering in the fields; and the man asked him, "what are you seeking?"
"I am seeking my brothers," he said, "tell me, I pray you, where they are pasturing the flock."
And the man said, "They have gone away, for I heard them say 'Let us go to Dothan'."
So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.

Every time I read this story, I pause at this section. Who is this random unnamed man? Look again at the dialogue: "What are you seeking?"  And Joseph doesn't answer with a "what", but a "who".  "I am seeking my brothers." 

Joseph is given direction by the unnamed man who clearly knew who his brothers are, and he goes, and finds them.

This passage is so loaded; it reveals a prefigurement of the Messaiah, and a subtle shift in power; it is not his brothers who seek him, but Joseph who seeks his brothers.

Of course, he finds them, they plot to kill him and at the behest of Reuben who wants no harm to come to his brother, convinces them to put him in a cistern instead (so Rueben can restore him to his father). Instead, Joseph is sold into Ismaelite slave traders, who take him to Egypt and sell him to Pharaoh's Captain of the Guard.

Genesis Chapter 39 tells us that the Lord was with Joseph and he became a very successful man as a slave in Potiphar's house, and finds favor; he was actually placed in charge of the household.

Then the woman of the house hit on him and when Joseph refused to submit, fleeing the woman's greedy embrace, she lied and accused him of attacking her, causing him to be thrown into prison.

Genesis 39:21-22 tells us the favor of the Lord was steadfast and he caused the prison keeper to have regard for Joseph, and all prisoners were placed into his care. It was in this context that Joseph met the butler and baker of the king of Egypt.

The two servants of the king had mysterious dreams, and Joseph found them downcast, and upon learning the dreams, stated, "Do not interpretations belong to God?"  So they told Joseph the dreams and he interpreted them; both came to pass as Joseph said. The baker was executed and the butler restored to the King's service.

Two years later the Pharaoh had a dream, and the Butler remembered Joseph and told the King about him. Joseph was summoned from prison and brought before the King, where he interpreted the dream and gave advice on how to proceed with the prediction of the oncoming famine. Because of his gift and his wisdom, the Pharaoh set Joseph as his second in command and put him in charge of preparing for the famine.

Reality Check

As I re-read all of this, I kept pondering the protestant preacher's words:  Joseph was getting the short end of the stick? Really?

Let's take a closer look:

Well, first we have a spoiled brat who taunts his brothers, and he brothers go overboard on the revenge. OK, granted, that was a pretty awful thing to do; to plot to kill one's own flesh and blood and then sell him into slavery. Very low. That does seem to be quite a detriment.

Well, Ishmaelite slave traders weren't exactly known for being gentle folk, and Joseph could have been sold anywhere - but no, he want to Pharoah's Captain of the Guard. Then he is placed in charge of the household. Oh, right, he was thrown into prison for a crime he did not commit, but then he still found favor. After all, as scripture tells us, the favor of the Lord was upon Joseph and everywhere he went, even prison, he was the favored son and experienced the best of conditions.

No matter how I read this, I simply can't see that Joseph EVER got the "short end of the stick."

Did he suffer trials? Indeed, and yes, they were harsh!

Still, Joseph was cared for by God, and I see those trials as a purification; he had misused his gift and had to be taught how to use it. Not to benefit himself, but, rather, to benefit others. He had to learn not to abuse his gift to grow in regard of others, but rather, to grow in humility and wisdom.

While Joseph, after he favorably interpreted the dream for the Butler, asked him to remember him when he was restored, and revealed he was unjustly imprisoned, we hear not a word of complaint from him for the two following years as he continued his prison work.

It was not until he was sufficiently purified in God's eyes that he was called upon to place his gift and himself at the service of the Pharaoh and all his kingdom, and ultimately, his own family.

What are you seeking?

Look again at the unnamed man in the field and his conversation with young spoiled Joseph.

He was seeking his brothers, and even when those who had sold him came to him, he sought until he had found them all. Joseph was not satisfied with only a few brothers; he ached for his family and his homeland and knew he could not reveal his identity until the time was right, and when all had been properly restored...and forgiven.


Pablo the Mexican said...

Pretty good.

Because Protestants come from Holy Mother Church, they carry some Truth.

But they are still Heretics.

I would caution against hanging around listening to them.

That is a major reason why I have set up my Catholic sermons web site.

I invite you to visit.

In the 'Featured Sermons of Father Pfeiffer' you will find Saint Mary Magdalene.

I hope you find it edifying.

I read your post, and am happy to see someone speaking 'Catholic'.

It almost became like Latin.

God be with you, Adoro.


Adoro said...

St. Michael Come to Our Defense ~ I would caution you to watch how you throw around the word "heretic". I have a Master's degree in Theological Studies from a VERY solid Catholic University and can assure you that today's Protestants are not heretics. Those of the Reformation in 1500 - that's a different story. Luther, Calvin, etc.

In order to be a heretic one has to be baptised and of course, KNOW what the Catholic Church teaches, and THEN reject it. Like the Albigensians and others of their ilk. The Protestant faithful today have been raised in their own stream of religion and cannot be considered to be heretics even though it CAN be said they embrace heretical ideas. Thus, they are our seperated bretheren.

As a theologian, I enjoy hearing what some of our Protestant brothers and sisters have to say, and then, with my educational background, can listen with my Catholic ear and find both the points of agreement and those of departure.

In any case, I found this particular preacher's position to be edifying for he made me dig deeper and consider this particular story in a deeper way. Ergo: God has been glorified.

But thanks for the "caution" albeit unnecessary in my particular case. I'd agree with cautioning the uneducated and unformed Catholics who cannot sort out our beliefs from theirs.

Pablo the Mexican said...

If you question modern day Protestants, they will always go back to opposition of Catholic dogma and doctrine; their beliefs could not otherwise stand.

Preaching to the choir was obvious.

Many read Catholic blogs as their only means of Catechism.

I think we both have clarified much for these Faithful.

That you for stopping by my web site.

Pray for the Holy Father and all his Priests Nuns, and Religious.


Adoro said...

SMCTOD ~ With all due respect, that does not automatically label them as "heretics".

Your definition does not stand and does not meet the standards of authentic Catholic teaching. Use caution, my brother.

And the unfortunate reality exists in our age that many Protestant Biblical scholars are far more Catholic in their work than the "Catholic" scholars who claim the mantle of Catholicism!

It is for this reason I am more than willing to listen to a Protestant scholar, then sort out what is Truth vs what is inauthentic (if well meaning) interpretation. As I have the background to discern these things, it is of much interest to me.

And truly, Protestant preachers actually led me back home to the Church when I had strayed away. I count one as a very good friend in real life.

It may interest you and happily surprise you that many Protestants from various backgrounds are not so opposed to Catholic belief, and those who are, are, more often than not, open to discussion.

That tends to be my own personal means of evangelization for of course, it is not our job to convert anyone. But it IS my job to plant the seeds God has given me and allow Him to do the work. So it is for you.

For that reason, I avoid using the weed-killer "Heresy" because it often kills the very seed I have been trying to plant unless used in an isolated, specific, and precise manner.

Pray for evangelists, who bring Christ to the world through the gifts He gave them.

Jose said...

This was a great post. You mention the Abligensians before. I have always been curious about this resurgent Gnostic sect and what they were about. Can you suggest a good book or website to introduce me to them? The Cathar rebellion is often a tool used by those against the Church to try and prove that the Church is against true religious freedom and promotes genocide. I'd like to know what really went down without prejudice or agenda.

Adoro said...

Jose ~ Weird, I thought I approved this comment DAYS ago, but it appeared today.

In any case, check out

That's one site. In your comment you seem to be mixing up a lot of stuff and details, and that makes me think you've been under attack by fundamentalists. Their primary form of attack is to level one charge and as you start to respond or DO respond, they level another...and another...and another. And the next thing you know, you don't know what you're defending or advocating anymore.

So you know what I'm going to tell you?

First learn your Faith at its foundation. Know what the Catholic Church teaches and ACTUALLY believes. Know the tenants, know the philosophy, know the theology. You're a very intelligent guy, far more intelligent than I am. Use that to your advantage! Learn the Truth first, and THEN take what is True and stand as a bulwark against the rubber arrows of those who attack her.

I can't point you to any one site. What you're REALLY asking for is Truth, and in response, all I can tell you is to continue to seek her through the objective yardstick of the Faith you already possess. Learn that first or you will be torn to shreds by people of no faith at all.

Then again...that's how I came back, but I wouldn't wish that upon anyone.