By Fr Donald Chambers
In last Sunday’s article, I alluded to the cramped physical condition of many Caribbean homes and communities in which we huddled together is a spiritual model to “take home” and “huddle” with persons who are sources of shame and embarrassment in our lives.
In doing so we discover, like Joseph, God’s presence. As I reflect on the theme Drawing Closer to Communicate God’s Hidden Plan, I invite you to keep this in mind.
To effectively communicate messages, drawing closer to persons is essential. Drawing closer is fertile soil to communicate an affectionate message or to console and comfort someone. Drawing closer breaks down social, physical, and psychological barriers and facilitates the development of trust with others.
I wish to rely on the Joseph stories of Genesis as a window to a deeper understanding of Joseph’s action, as the spouse of Mary, to “take Mary home” and his drawing closer to her to communicate God’s hidden plan on the meaning of her pregnancy.
Regarding Joseph’s encounter with his jealous brothers, Genesis 45:4 says, “Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come closer to me’ . . . then throwing his arms around the neck of his brother Benjamin he wept . . .”
Weeping is an outward manifestation of vulnerability. Weeping sends a message that I don’t have my entire life under control, I am weak and helpless and letting down my protective guard.
Weeping is like a volcanic eruption emitting pent up molten rocks and lava of painful emotions caused by broken expectations and disappointments.
In response, many persons suppress the urge to weep, and construct thick and heavy armours to protect themselves from being vulnerable.
As Brené Brown writes, “the first response to the vulnerability and discomfort… is…to make it go away. We do that by numbing and taking the edge off the pain with whatever provides the quickest relief.”
In drawing closer to his jealous brothers and weeping before them, Joseph demonstrates vulnerability.
In weeping, Joseph the Patriarch teaches the value of vulnerability in paving the way to discern and reveal God’s hidden plan.
Despite the terrible consequences of his brothers’ action, that is, being sold to passing merchants travelling to Egypt, alienated from his family, cultural roots and religion, accused unjustly of rape and placed in prison, and the emotional tension of facing his brothers, his vulnerability opened him to see the deeper meaning of God’s plan hidden under those tragedies, and it paved the way to gradually draw closer to his brothers to communicate the message (Genesis 45:1–15).
Weakness and vulnerability
In this regard, Pope Francis reminds us that, “We need to set aside all anger and disappointment, and to embrace the way things are, even when they do not turn out as we wish.”
Vulnerability helped Joseph the Patriarch to painfully work through the emotional hurts, thus avoiding becoming revengeful and vindicative in his response to his brothers.
Joseph the carpenter would have repeatedly heard the Joseph stories whenever the Torah was proclaimed at synagogue worship, and they would have helped to shape his spiritualty of vulnerability, and his eventual response to Mary despite his own broken expectations and disappointment.
In light of Joseph’s experience, Pope Francis writes, “Joseph’s attitude encourages us to accept and welcome others as they are, without exception, and to show special concern for the weak, for God chooses what is weak” (cf 1 Cor 1:27).
Joseph challenges us to draw close to persons who are weak and vulnerable because in them is to be found the Treasure—Jesus Christ. In drawing close to Mary, Joseph the carpenter made it possible for the incarnation, that is God’s drawing closer to humanity in our weakness and vulnerability, to occur.
We are invited to start climbing the steep hill towards drawing closer to our own vulnerability and weakness as well as that of others. The question is, to whom and to what do we need to draw closer?
We need to draw closer to our own disappointments and broken expectations, to the reality of our own imperfections, to the imperfections of our own families and community members, and to wise persons who can accompany us as we learn to become vulnerable.
Both Josephs discovered that God’s plan is buried within their imperfections and the circumstances of their lives. They discovered God’s plan by drawing closer to this imperfect reality.
Referring to Joseph the carpenter, Pope Francis writes, “We know that God’s truth does not condemn, but instead welcomes, embraces, sustains and forgives us” (2, Patris Corde).
What are those imperfect circumstances and who are those persons to which you are called to draw closer?
Fr Donald Chambers of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Jamaica is the General Secretary of the Antilles Episcopal Conference.