[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—Thursday, 13 February, Pre-Lenten Feria
[The image is attributed to Raphaël de Mercatelli, Ghent, 15th c.]
Genesis 44:1-20, 30-34
Joseph and Benjamin
Then he commanded the steward of his house, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack, and put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, with his money for the grain.” And he did as Joseph told him. As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away with their asses. When they had gone but a short distance from the city, Joseph said to his steward, “Up, follow after the men; and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you returned evil for good? Why have you stolen my silver cup? Is it not from this that my lord drinks, and by this that he divines? You have done wrong in so doing.’”
When he overtook them, he spoke to them these words. They said to him, “Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants that they should do such a thing! Behold, the money which we found in the mouth of our sacks, we brought back to you from the land of Canaan; how then should we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? With whomever of your servants it be found, let him die, and we also will be my lord’s slaves.” He said, “Let it be as you say: he with whom it is found shall be my slave, and the rest of you shall be blameless.” Then every man quickly lowered his sack to the ground, and every man opened his sack. And he searched, beginning with the eldest and ending with the youngest; and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. Then they rent their clothes, and every man loaded his ass, and they returned to the city.
When Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, he was still there; and they fell before him to the ground, and he said to them, “What deed is this that you have done? Do you not know that such a man as I can indeed divine?” And Judah said, “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s slaves, both we and he also in whose hand the cup has been found.” But he said, “Far be it from me that I should do so! Only the man in whose hand the cup was found shall be my slave; but as for you, go up in peace to your father.”
Then Judah went up to him and said, “O my lord, let your servant, I pray you, speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not your anger burn against your servant; for you are like Pharaoh himself. My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father, or a brother?’ And we said to my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a young brother, the child of his old age; and his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother’s children; and his father loves him.’
“Now therefore, when I come to your servant my father, and the lad is not with us, then, as his life is bound up in the lad’s life, when he sees that the lad is not with us, he will die; and your servants will bring down the grey hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to Sheol. For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame in the sight of my father all my life.’ Now therefore, let your servant, I pray you, remain instead of the lad as a slave to my lord; and let the lad go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if the lad is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would come upon my father.”
St. Ambrose, On Joseph (10.56, 58, 60-66—Tr. McHugh)
Now by raising his eyes he saw Benjamin, the son of his mother. The moral sense is, that we see those we love before others and the gaze of our eyes lights first on those whom we consider first in our mind’s eye. In the mystical sense, however, the Lord Jesus saw Paul – for the eyes of the Lord are upon the just – and said, is this your youngest brother?
The greater prerogative is given to Paul for the beginning of his faith; of him it is said to Ananias, Go, because he is to me a vessel of election to carry my name amongst the Gentiles. And the silver cup is put in his sack alone. Benjamin did not know this; Paul was in error, but he was called. The sacks of the brothers are first examined according to the order of age of each brother. Joseph indeed practiced deception and sent the cup so that he might by a holy trick recall the brother whom he loved; yet the light of God’s mysterious plans is clearly reflected.
Christ finds this money in us, which he has himself given us. We possess the money of nature, we also possess the money of grace. Nature is the work of the Creator, grace the gift of the Redeemer. Even though we are unable to see Christ’s gifts, nevertheless he is giving them; he is working in a hidden way and is giving them to all men, but there are few who are able to keep them and not lose them.
Yet he does not give all things to all men. Wheat is given to many, but the cup to one, who is presented with the prophetic and priestly function. For it is not everyone but only the Prophet who says, The cup of salvation I will take up and I will call upon the name of the Lord. Therefore the word of heavenly teaching already shone in Paul’s body, since he was instructed in the Law. But because he was still not subject to the justice of God, the cup was within the sack, the teaching within the Law, the lamp within the bushel. Nevertheless, Ananias was sent to give a blessing and to lay on his hand and open the sack. When the sack was opened, the money shone forth, and when the scales fell, in a way like fastenings on the sack, Paul saw straightway. Free of the bond, he obtained the grace of liberty and said, But we all, beholding the glory of God with faces unveiled, are transformed into the same image.
Those who lose Christ do return back. Indeed, in the Gospel too, when they were seizing the Lord Jesus for death, they drew back and fell upon the ground. It was appropriate that they went back, for they fell from heavenly grace to earthly defilement. And so, by an interpretation in the moral sense, they did not wish to return without their brother; in the mystical sense, they were unwilling to return without Paul. With the loss of him, they claimed that the old age of the father of the people would be brought down into sorrow. And so Judah desired to remain with Joseph so as not to see the evils which came upon his father; that is, he foresaw and desired to guard against the evils which were going to come to the people of the Jews.