The “wrestling with God” that we considered in yesterday’s reflection does not end when Jacob receives the name Israel at daybreak. It is only just beginning, and it will continue through the sons of Israel, for generations to come, as God works out the mysterious plan of God’s covenant with humankind through Israel (cf. our earlier reflection on the history of salvation). The “sons of Israel” begin with Israel’s actual sons, whose wrestling among themselves in some way reflects the wrestling with God that occurs in Israel’s own heart. Once we human beings turn away from the simplicity and trust in God’s love that God offers us in faith, we begin to judge and second-guess the rightness of God’s decisions. This is especially the case when God makes a choice; we tend to rebel against God’s choices. Why did God choose Jacob to be Israel and not Esau (or me)? Among Israel’s sons, why did God choose Joseph as his beloved and not a brother who was more humble and hard-working and less full of himself? We may fault Israel for the favoritism he shows Joseph, but then we should fault God, for Israel’s predilection simply reflects God’s own election.
Joseph himself did not really understand what it meant to be chosen by God. He originally is very happy to tell his brothers that he dreamt that they would have to bow down to him, but he does not yet understand that—though this dream will come true, as it does in today’s first reading (Gn 41:55-57; 42:5-7a, 17-24a)—this will not be some triumphant moment in which he will lord over his brothers, but rather a reckoning in love. Joseph will be called to help his brothers grow in the humility and love that he had to learn through his many years of servitude and imprisonment that he had to endure in Egypt before Pharaoh raised him from the depths of the dungeon and asked him to administer the harvest of the land so as to save his people (read Gen 37 and following for context). When his brothers come to Joseph to beg for food, they do not recognize him, and Joseph will not reveal himself until they are ready to see him, but, without imposing himself upon them, he weeps for their salvation, as our Lord weeps for ours. He knows that it is not enough to give his brothers bread, which is all they seek. He wants to help them arrive at that deeper healing that can only come through a recognition and confession of that evil that they have chosen in place of God’s love, and the free surrender of that evil to God in order to return to the simplicity and light of the life that God so desires to offer them. Here we see a salvific “wrestling” among the son’s of Israel, one that no longer primarily concerns some imagined superiority, but rather is ordered to the greater glory of God and the genuine salvation of all the “sons of Israel.”