Salvation history offers us a context through which we can better understand today’s readings. In Biblical Hebrew, the word for Adam and that for Man (meaning all human beings together, as well as each individual human being) is the same word, since a person’s relationship to God was considered to continue through that person’s descendants (“seed”). Thus, for the ancient Israelites, Adam’s relationship with God continues today through God’s relationship with Man (all of us together). God created Adam to share God’s own life, but Adam chose a different path, one which knows not only love, but also its rejection, and Adam called this “life,” though spiritually it was death: the first mortal sin. But God loved Adam and wished to save him, and so he cast Adam and Eve out of the garden, lest they thus remain there in their sin forever. Since Man as a whole resists turning back to God (we can recall Cain and Abel, the wake of Noah and the flood, and the tower of Babel), God chooses one particular man, Abraham, and makes a covenant with him. Through this one man, all nations, and thus all of Man, will be blessed. What can this blessing be if not Man’s assent to the fullness of life that God offers him?
From Abraham, we have Isaac and Jacob, who wrestles with the angel and thus receives the name Israel, through whom the covenant will pass. But the sons of Israel are hardly exemplars of the covenant in their conduct: they wish to kill one of their own, Joseph, though they settle instead for the profit that can be had by selling him into Egypt. But God uses Joseph’s captivity to teach him about what it means to be called by God: he will suffer, but the fruit of this suffering is that, by God’s grace, he discovers that he was sent ahead of his brothers to save them, they who had tried to kill him. This is a lesson that all of Israel (including Joseph’s brothers and their descendants) will have to learn, for having sold their brother into slavery in Egypt only to be saved by him, they will all soon find themselves enslaved in Egypt, and will need to be saved by God as Joseph had been, not for themselves but ultimately so that they can save their persecutors, as Joseph saved his.
First, God needs to save his people (again), and this people needs to reaffirm that it does, indeed, wish to be this God’s people. This means that the people must learn to act as God instructs them and thus manifest God’s glory, for we come to resemble that which we adore. This is precisely the invitation that God makes to his people through Moses in Deuteronomy 26:16-19: “Today you are making this agreement with the LORD: he is to be your God and you are to walk in his ways” (Dt 26:17). It is by following the law that reveals God’s glory through Israel, that Israel becomes a blessing to all people, precisely because God’s glory shines in the world through this obedience. The fullness of the blessing God offers to all nations comes to fruition through Christ who fully reveals what the life of God looks like when it is lived out in a human life: “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Mt 5:44-45). When we begin to receive the grace to love as Christ loves, by accepting the love that Christ has for us, we begin to live the life that God intended all along for Man. For God did not create us for mediocrity but to share in his own, breathtakingly beautiful life. And this gift truly is given, not just for you, but through you, for the whole world. “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).