For the next few days we will be reading at Mass from the Book of Genesis about Joseph, the son of Jacob, who’s betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery in Egypt. Joseph becomes one of Pharaoh’s chief advisors. Drought and famine may strike the whole land, but Egypt is prepared because Joseph has stored food in its cities in seven years of plenty to last through seven years of want.
When his brothers come looking for food, Joseph gives it to them and saves them and their families from starvation. Eventually, Joseph brings Jacob, his father, and all his brothers and their families to ride out the famine in the safety of Egypt.
Like many Old Testament stories, the story of Joseph is filled with lessons simple as well as profound. It is a reminder that God saves his people, even through betrayals like Joseph experienced from his brothers and natural disasters like famine and drought. It’s also a story of forgiveness: Joseph forgives his brothers for betraying him. He shows them God’s mercy.
This is also a story to reflect on as we face questions of immigration and global solidarity today. During the famine the Egyptians obviously let outsiders like Joseph’s brothers, who were nomads living beyond its borders, into their country. Why not build a wall around Egypt and keep strangers out?
Historically, it may have been an act of practical politics. The nomads living on the borders of Egypt and along its trade routes offered safe passage and were a good buffer against powerful empires to the north. It’s good to have good neighbors. One reason the Byzantine empire fell so quickly later on to Moslem invaders, historians say, was because it lost the support of the Bedouin tribes on its borders.
These days, Pope Francis is stressing the “interconnectedness” of all life on our planet. The human family and nature are connected, for good or for ill. It’s not good to think only of Egypt.