The theme of family keeps coming back – here earlier in the week, yesterday in two significant conversations and today in all the Scripture passages. From the Hebrew Scriptures we hear the story of Joseph whom his father loved “best of all his sons” (and he had a dozen!) “because he was the child of his old age.” Because of their jealousy his brothers plotted to kill him. But for a caravan of Ishmaelites passing by, we would not have one of the great stories of the Hebrew people in Egypt. Since it was more financially profitable and somewhat morally acceptable to those who had a conscience, Joseph’s brothers sold him as a slave – and the rest of the story makes good reading toward the end of the book of Genesis. Psalm 105 sings of this betrayal and in Matthew’s gospel Jesus tells an analogous parable to the chief priests and elders (MT 21: 33-46) about wicked tenants who killed everyone the landowner sent to collect the rent – even his son whom he believed they would respect. Jesus was obviously making a point about his own presence on earth and their lack of recognition of God’s plan. I was led in a different direction, however, given my ponderings and conversations this week about family.
We often joke in my family about the pride with which my father spoke of my brother. I usually describe this as his “my baby, my boy” stance. Although there was clearly no favoritism shown to any of us and we were just as delighted with my brother as were my parents, the story of Joseph reminded me of other families where difference has become discrimination. Distain for the one sibling that is an artist in a family of engineers or jealousy of the one who is a rich doctor when the rest are middle class laborers is a dangerous thing. Of course, it’s all more complicated than that. We’ve learned a lot about birth order and what all that can cause in the development of personality as well as the role money can play in families…and so much more. This morning, though, I’m aware of the need of all of us to reflect on our responsibility to respect those who have been given to us as blessings and/or challenges to our growth. I speak here of parents who need to nurture their children without binding them too closely – even with bonds of love – as well as siblings who must respect one another for the persons they are. Each of us is a singular, unrepeatable gift of God and we need to treat those closest to us in parentage as we would treat the cherished friends of our hearts. If that is not possible, at least we must be constantly aware of their human dignity and pray for their peace.