Mar 18, 2022: Friday of the Second Week of Lent

1st Reading – Genesis 37:3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28a

Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons,
for he was the child of his old age;
and he had made him a long tunic.
When his brothers saw that their father loved him best of all his sons,
they hated him so much that they would not even greet him.

One day, when his brothers had gone
to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem,
Israel said to Joseph,
“Your brothers, you know, are tending our flocks at Shechem.
Get ready; I will send you to them.”

So Joseph went after his brothers and caught up with them in Dothan.
They noticed him from a distance,
and before he came up to them, they plotted to kill him.
They said to one another: “Here comes that master dreamer!
Come on, let us kill him and throw him into one of the cisterns here;
we could say that a wild beast devoured him.
We shall then see what comes of his dreams.”

When Reuben heard this,
he tried to save him from their hands, saying,
“We must not take his life.
Instead of shedding blood,” he continued,
“just throw him into that cistern there in the desert;
but do not kill him outright.”
His purpose was to rescue him from their hands
and return him to his father.
So when Joseph came up to them,
they stripped him of the long tunic he had on;
then they took him and threw him into the cistern,
which was empty and dry.

They then sat down to their meal.
Looking up, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead,
their camels laden with gum, balm and resin
to be taken down to Egypt.
Judah said to his brothers:
“What is to be gained by killing our brother and concealing his blood?
Rather, let us sell him to these Ishmaelites,
instead of doing away with him ourselves.
After all, he is our brother, our own flesh.”
His brothers agreed.
They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver.

Today’s reading is an excerpt from the story of Jacob’s son Joseph, a story made famous by the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Joseph was the son of Jacob (who was renamed Israel) and Rachel. Jacob had twelve sons and at least one daughter by four women, his wives, Leah and Rachel, and his concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah.

In order of their birth, the sons were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin, all of whom became the heads of their own family groups, which later became known as the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Jacob’s daughter’s name was Dinah.

Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age;

Although Jacob’s preferential love for Joseph is due to human causes, behind it we can see something which occurs throughout the Bible — how some people, gratuitously, enjoy special favor, including special divine favor and love. This special love doesn’t mean that the love shown to others is diminished.

and he had made him a long tunic.

The Hebrew word for Joseph’s tunic is ketonet passim, which has been translated several ways:

  • the Septuagint uses the word poikilos, which indicates “many-colored”;
  • the Revised Standard Version has it as “a long robe with sleeves”;
  • the New International Version notes the translation difficulties in a footnote, and translates it as “a richly ornamented robe.”

Regardless of the specific nature of the garment, we know that it was ornamental, not suitable for working, and a cherished gift. It likely made him look like a prince, which would have foreshadowed his glorious future in Egypt (a future about which we will not read today).

When his brothers saw that their father loved him best of all his sons,
they hated him so much that they would not even greet him.

The sin of Jacob’s other sons, like Cain’s in some way (Genesis 4:5) begins with their reacting against God’s preferential love; it then turns to hatred and envy.

One day, when his brothers had gone to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem, Israel said to Joseph, “Your brothers, you know, are tending our flocks at Shechem. Get ready; I will send you to them.” So Joseph went after his brothers and caught up with them in Dothan. 

Joseph was sent by his father to check on his brothers in Shechem, which was quite a distance away. In verses excluded from the excerpt, we are told that when Joseph failed to find them at Shechem, he inquired after them and was told that they had moved on to Dothan.

This extra effort on Joseph’s part indicates his love for his brothers, despite their hatred of him. He did more than merely obey his father.

They noticed him from a distance, and before he came up to them, they plotted to kill him.

Note that the brothers acted not out of the heat of the moment, but in a deliberate, pre-meditated way.

They said to one another: “Here comes that master dreamer! Come on, let us kill him and throw him into one of the cisterns here; we could say that a wild beast devoured him. We shall then see what comes of his dreams.”

Dreams play an important role in the story of Joseph. In the dreams referred to here, Joseph’s brothers bow down to him as though he were their ruler. Joseph’s brothers do not want the dream to come true, so they plot his murder.

When Reuben heard this, he tried to save him from their hands, saying, “We must not take his life. Instead of shedding blood,” he continued, “just throw him into that cistern there in the desert; but do not kill him outright.” His purpose was to rescue him from their hands and return him to his father.

Of all the brothers, Reuben had most reason to be jealous of Joseph because he was the first-born, and therefore entitled to the favor that Jacob conferred on Joseph, instead.

Yet here we see Reuben coming to Joseph’s aid. God can raise up allies for his people, even among their enemies.

So when Joseph came up to them, they stripped him of the long tunic he had on; 

Stripping Joseph of his cherished tunic would have been a way of degrading him and destroying the symbol of their father’s preference for him.

then they took him and threw him into the cistern, which was empty and dry.

A cistern was a pit cut in limestone rock, lined with plaster to prevent collected rainwater from seeping out.

Instead of committing any violence against Joseph, they leave him at the bottom of a pit to die of starvation and/or exposure.

They then sat down to their meal.

One cannot help but imagine Joseph calling out to them for pity, pleading for his life, while the brothers sit down and eat.

This was likely intended to show a complete lack of remorse on their part, as an afflicted conscience would have spoiled their appetite.

Looking up, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, their camels laden with gum, balm and resin to be taken down to Egypt.

A caravan of merchants passes by.

Judah said to his brothers: “What is to be gained by killing our brother and concealing his blood? Rather, let us sell him to these Ishmaelites, instead of doing away with him ourselves. After all, he is our brother, our own flesh.”

In a certain kind of compassion toward Joseph, Judah suggests that they sell him to the merchants. This way they won’t be in any way responsible for Joseph’s death, and Joseph would be carried far enough off into Egypt, where, in all probability, he would never be heard from again.

His brothers agreed. They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver.

As Joseph was sold by the contrivance of Judah for twenty pieces of silver, so was Jesus sold for thirty, and by one of the same name too: Judas.

“Joseph was sold by his brothers because they did not want to do him honor; but that is exactly what they do, by the very fact of selling him. … So too, when one wants to avoid the divine will, that is when it is fulfilled” (Saint Gregory the Great, Moralia, 6, 18,20).

Psalm 105:16-21

R. Remember the marvels the Lord has done.

Psalm 105 extols God for his redemption of Israel by surveying the history of the chosen people. The section we use for today’s responsorial reminds us how Joseph made it possible for the Israelites to go down to Egypt to avoid famine and grow strong in number.

When the LORD called down a famine on the land and ruined the crop that sustained them, he sent a man before them, Joseph, sold as a slave.
The psalmist interprets the history of Joseph as being planned by divine providence. Joseph was sold as a slave and taken to Egypt many years before the famine began.
They had weighed him down with fetters, and he was bound with chains, 
Not only sold was Joseph sold into slavery, he was later imprisoned there (“weighed him down with fetters”, “bound with chains”).
His master’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, but he refused. Angered by his rejection, she falsely accused Joseph of rape, for which he was sent to prison (Genesis 39:1–20).

until his prediction came to pass and the word of the LORD proved him true. The king sent and released him, the ruler of the peoples set him free. He made him lord of his house and ruler of all his possessions.

While in prison, Joseph became known for his ability to interpret dreams. When the Pharaoh dreamt of seven lean cows which devoured seven fat cows, Joseph was summoned to interpret the dream. Joseph advised Pharaoh that the dream was a prophecy of an impending famine.
Pharaoh was so impressed by Joseph’s prophecy, which proved true, that he named him Vizier of Egypt, his highest official, “lord of his house and ruler of all his possessions.”
Gospel – Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people:
“Hear another parable.
There was a landowner who planted a vineyard,
put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower.
Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.
When vintage time drew near,
he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce.
But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat,
another they killed, and a third they stoned.
Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones,
but they treated them in the same way.
Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking,
‘They will respect my son.’
But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another,
‘This is the heir.
Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’
They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?”
They answered him,
“He will put those wretched men to a wretched death
and lease his vineyard to other tenants
who will give him the produce at the proper times.”
Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures:
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
by the Lord has this been done,
and it is wonderful in our eyes?
Therefore, I say to you,
the kingdom of God will be taken away from you
and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables,
they knew that he was speaking about them.
And although they were attempting to arrest him,
they feared the crowds, for they regarded him as a prophet.

Today’s gospel reading is the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. Jesus is calling to conversion both the elders, who interpreted the law, and the chief priests, who offered sacrifice in the temple and instructed the people.

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: “Hear another parable.

Jesus has been challenging the leaders with a series of parables. This one is about a vineyard.

Every Jew in Jesus’ audience would have been familiar with stories of vineyards. From Genesis to Revelation, the symbol of the vineyard is mentioned over a hundred times in the Bible. A few examples:

  • Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7, our first reading)
  • The prophet Micah’s picture of happiness that “every man shall sit under his own vine” (Micah 4:4)
  • Psalm 80 (this week’s responsorial psalm): “the vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel”

There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower.

In this parable, the master of the house himself planted the vineyard, built the protection around it, and constructed the winepress to be used at the time of vintage. He has spared no effort to cultivate and embellish his vineyard.

Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.

After the hard work was finished, the owner leased the vineyard to tenants who had only to care for the vines until the grapes were ready for the press. He then left the country and became an absentee landlord. The scene is set for the drama to unfold.

When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce.

The owner would have received his rent either in the form of money or by an agreed-upon share of the grapes; the latter seems to be the case here. He sends his servants at the appropriate time to collect payment.

But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way.

Many commentators believe Jesus intended an allegorical interpretation of this parable, meaning that every element of the story has a specific meaning (versus a traditional parable, in which the details aren’t stressed).

In an allegorical context, God would be understood as the owner of the vineyard, the vineyard would be Israel, and the Jewish leaders would be the tenants to whom the vineyard was trusted (the priests, scribes, and elders). To these leaders, God periodically sent prophets (the servants) to announce God’s designs.

This interpretation certainly fits with Israel’s history, which records how both the leaders and the people refused to listen to the prophets and even put some of them to death (Isaiah 52:13-53:12).

Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’

Failing all else, the son of the owner is sent with the full authority of his father. Allegorically, this is Jesus.

The parable indicates singular, transcendental sonship, highlighting the difference between Jesus and the prophets. The prophets were servants, not “the Son.”

But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’

The tenants’ reasoning may seem puzzling: Why would they think killing the son would make them eligible for inheriting the vineyard? There may have been a provision stating that in the absence of an owner, his property could be claimed by those who were able to secure immediate possession.

In the bigger picture, there is no reason for the tenants to feel threatened by or envious of the son and heir, or for them to even resist paying the rent to the owner. The owner has equipped them with all that is necessary to make a good profit; they simply have to be content that it is not theirs outright, but on loan from the owner.

They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.

Jesus’ audience had no way of knowing the surprise climax of his own story in real life, namely that Jesus would be dragged out of the city and put to death (Jesus was crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem) and that they, the religious leaders and their followers, would be the ones who would do it.

The malicious purpose of the tenants in murdering the son and to keep the inheritance for themselves is the madness of the Jewish leaders in expecting to become undisputed masters of Israel by putting Christ to death (see Matthew 12:14, Galatians 26:4).

What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?”

After Jesus tells this gruesome story, he asks the leaders to provide a ruling on the situation.

They answered him, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.”

The sentence they passed was quite harsh, but it was no harsher than the conduct of the tenants. As before, in passing judgment on the characters in the story, the chief priests and elders have unwittingly passed judgment on themselves.

Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes’?

The rejection of the son in the parable calls to mind the passage from the Psalms about the rejected stone that becomes the cornerstone (Psalm 118:22-23). For the building to be well built, it needs to rest on this stone.

The stone is Jesus of Nazareth, but the architects of Israel, who build up and rule the people, have chosen not to use it in the building.

As Christians, this parable exhorts us to build the Church faithfully upon Christ. Doing so gives us hope and a sense of security, for although the Church at times may seem to be breaking up, its sound construction, with Christ as its cornerstone, is assured.

Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”

Because of the unfaithfulness of the Jewish leadership, the Kingdom of God will be turned over to another people, the Gentiles, who will give God the fruit he expects his vineyard to yield (see Matthew 3:8-10, Galatians 6:15-16).

And what are these allegorical fruits that are expected from the vineyard? The virtues: love, justice, integrity, mercy, peace, and reconciliation. Each of us has a significant role in making our local Church a living community.

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they knew that he was speaking about them.

We must be careful not to give this passage an anti-Judaic interpretation. As seen here, it was the specific Jewish leaders who were condemned by Jesus, not the entire people.

And although they were attempting to arrest him, they feared the crowds, for they regarded him as a prophet.

Jesus tells the Jewish leadership this story not to condemn them, but to call them to conversion. Jesus’ enemies are still being invited to the kingdom; however, in order to accept this invitation, they must first repent.

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