[Consonant with both Anglicanism’s and monasticism’s love of patristic theology-spirituality, I occasionally post selections from Durham University’s two-year lectionary for the Divine Office that draws mostly from patristic writings. The lectionary was initially edited by Stephen Mark Holmes (University of Edinburgh School of Divinity) and subsequently re-edited and formatted by Michele Freyhauf (Durham University). Click here for the link to the lectionary.]
Patristic Lectionary—8 February, Ferial Day Following the Fourth Sunday After Epiphany.
[The image is Károly Ferenczy’s Joseph Sold into Slavery by His Brothers (1900)]
Genesis 37:2-4, 12-36
Joseph is Handed Over By His Brothers
This is the history of the family of Jacob.
Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a lad with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought an ill report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.
Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers, and with the flock; and bring me word again.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. And a man found him wandering in the fields; and the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said, “tell me, I pray you, where they are pasturing the flock.” And the man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him afar off, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild beast has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; cast him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand upon him – that he might rescue him out of their hand, to restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and cast him into a pit. The pit was empty, there was no water in it.
Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we slay our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers heeded him. Then Midianite traders passed by; and they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver; and they took Joseph to Egypt.
When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he rent his clothes and returned to his brothers, and said, “The lad is gone; and I, where shall I go?” Then they took Joseph’s robe, and killed a goat, and dipped the robe in the blood; and they sent the long robe with sleeves and brought it to their father, and said, “This we have found; see now whether it is your son’s robe or not.” And he recognized it, and said, “It is my son’s robe; a wild beast has devoured him; Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” Then Jacob rent his garments and put sackcloth upon his loins and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him. Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.
St. Cyril of Alexandria
Glaphyrorum in Genesim, 6 (PG 69:3-5)
The devout Joseph obeyed his father’s command to go to Shechem to see if his brothers were well, and where and how they were feeding their flocks. But when they saw him coming they smiled a cruel and fateful smile, saying: Here comes that dreamer! And they cast him into a pit. But a little later they drew the boy out of the pit and sold him to the Ishmaelites who were going to Egypt. And so Joseph was led away into Egypt.
In the same way our Lord Jesus Christ was sent by God the Father to see if the Israelites continued to be well, obviously in a spiritual sense, and if the sheep in their care were still in a good state and the shepherds not lacking in gentleness towards them. But people were aware that the beloved Son, the spiritual Joseph, was among them in person. For the blessed evangelist John said: Yet many even of the people in authority believed in him, but they kept it to themselves because of the Pharisees. So the fact that they recognised him did not prevent them from insulting him. Indeed they killed him and the cowards threw him into a kind of pit, the deep and dark pit of death, that is, Hades. For that is just how the inspired David showed him to us, speaking as if addressing his words to God the Father in heaven, as if in the person of Christ: Lord, you brought my soul out of Hades, you saved me from the fate of those who go down to the pit.
We are told: The pit was empty, there was no water in it to show us distinctly and clearly that this was meant to represent Hades. And I shall tell you why: water is a symbol of life, as something life-giving. It is said there was no water in the pit, naturally, for Hades was thought of as the home and dwelling-place of those deprived of life. However, the boy was raised from the pit. Christ too came back to life from the dead. For just as Joseph was not kept down in the pit, so neither did Christ remain in Hades, and what is more he left it empty. For he said to the prisoners: Come out!
It was not long after he had been raised from the pit that the devout Joseph went away to Egypt, when the Ishmaelites bought him. Christ too came back to life and rose from the pit. Then leaving Judea he went to the land of the Gentiles, taken there by the spiritual Ishmaelites, those in obedience to God, for that is the literal meaning of their name. Who would such people be? Again they were the blessed disciples, who had listened to Christ’s teaching and were the first-fruits of those distinguished in their obedience, their faith and glorious achievements above the Law. It was these who in a way bought Jesus, giving up all the treasure they possessed in the Law to buy that single pearl of great value, in the words of our Saviour’s own parable. It was they who conveyed Christ to the gentiles as ministers of the Gospel. Throughout every land under the sun they proclaimed him as God and Lord, and as the chosen stone, rejected by those who clung to the Law, the spiritual builders, but chosen and precious in God’s sight, and laid as the cornerstone of the building.