Saturday of Week 14 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 49:29-33; 50:15-26

We conclude our reading from the book of Genesis today. We hear Jacob giving his final instructions before his death. He wants to be buried close to his ancestors, Abraham and Isaac with their wives.

Bury me near my fathers, in the cave that is in the field of Ephron, the Hittite, in the cave in the field of Machpelah, opposite Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite as a burial plot.

We read about this purchase on Friday of Week 13. There Abraham and his wife, Isaac and his wife and Jacob’s wife, Leah, were all buried.

Then Jacob, having given his final instructions to his sons,

…drew his feet up into the bed and breathing his last was gathered to his people.

That is, he joined all of his ancestors in Sheol.

With the death of Jacob, the sons were full of trepidation that Joseph would now want to settle his accounts with his brothers for all they had done to him. They pre-empted any vengeful action by sending Joseph a message. They quoted their father as telling them to go to Joseph and beg forgiveness for all the wrong they had done to him:

We beg you, forgive the crime of the servants of your father’s God.

Once again, Joseph weeps on the receiving their message.

They prostrated themselves before him and expressed their readiness to be his slaves. They need not have worried. Their prostration is another example of the prophetic dream which Joseph had shared with his brothers many years previously. And, ironically, in times to come, the Israelites will be reduced to virtual slavery in Egypt and this will trigger the Exodus.

They did not reckon with their brother; Joseph was a much bigger man than they:

Do not be afraid; is it for me to put myself in God’s place?

He then tells them that all the evil they planned against him has, in God’s plan, been turned to good and has resulted in the liberation of many people. Joseph then promises to provide for them and all their dependants. It was now the brothers’ turn to be deeply touched by the magnanimity of someone who could, with some justification, have made things very nasty for them. We see here a clear pre-figuring of the teaching and example of Jesus later on. His teaching on the love of enemies, turning the other cheek and forgiving seventy times seven.

This may well be said to be the central lesson of the whole Joseph story. A lesson which we can apply to unpleasant experiences in our own lives. As Paul says”

Everything works together for the good of those who love God.

And probably it is only when we love God that we can understand the place of the evil and the tragic in our lives.

From now on, Joseph stays with his own family and lives to be 110 years old, long enough to see many of his grandchildren. It is now his time to leave the world. He tells his brothers he is confident that God will look kindly on them and, in time, bring them back from Egypt to the land he had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in perpetuity.

And finally he asks his brothers to swear an oath that his bones be taken back to be buried with his fathers. This will not in fact happen until centuries later when Moses, mindful of Joseph’s last wish, will take Joseph’s bones with him as the Israelites begin their long trek to the Promised Land (see Exod 13:19). Joseph’s bones were eventually:

…buried at Shechem in the tract of land that Jacob bought…from the sons of Hamor. Jos 24:32; Gen 33:19

The last verse of Genesis, which is not in our reading, says:

And Joseph died, being 110 years old; he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.

For the Egyptians the number 110 was seen as the perfect life span and would signify divine blessings on Joseph. Note too that the very last word of the book is “Egypt” and it is the setting for the opening of the next book, the Exodus, and the next stage in the history of God’s People.

In the coming weeks we will be reading passages from that great saga.

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