In today’s first reading (Gn 45:1-5), the Pharaoh’s administrator reveals to his disbelieving brothers that he is Joseph, whom they had sold into slavery. But he adds, “do not reproach yourselves for having sold me here. It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you” (Gen 45:5).
“Do not reproach yourselves…” Joseph’s brothers chose Joseph for death because they were infuriated that their father Israel (inspired by God’s own choice), had chosen (elected) Joseph for a life set apart. The choice coincides: the one whom God chooses to bring life to world, Joseph, is the one whom the world chooses for death, since the world does not understand God’s designs and flees from the life that God offers. This happens here among the sons of Israel, who will need to learn to accept God’s having chosen Joseph from among them before they can really understand what it means for they themselves to be the chosen people of God. To the brothers, the choice of Joseph was unfair and intolerable; we see that even Joseph did not properly understand what this election meant, since he initially tried to lord it over others (which is what happens when clergy fall prey to clericalism or Christians presume to be better than others because of their baptism). But over time (in Gn 37 and Gn 39-48), Joseph must learn, through fidelity to God’s promise even in the midst of great hardship, that election is not about an earthly pre-eminence, but rather that God chooses the elect to prepare the way for all who are to follow.
Joseph is chosen, not for himself, but so that God can choose and save all of the son’s of Israel through him. Likewise, Israel is chosen not for Israel’s own sake, but so that all peoples might be blessed through Israel. This is the sense in which Christians are called: if we are invited to share in God’s life, it is not to give us any sort of pre-eminence over our brothers and sisters, but rather so that, by letting ourselves be handed over to them and then raised up from the depths by God, as Joseph was, we too might walk ahead of them and prepare the way, so that the very people who sold us into perdition might find salvation through the path that God offers us. For it is really not, in the first place, our brothers and sisters who send us into Egypt, but it is rather our Lord who invites us to walk with him in the dark valley as his companions, for the salvation of the whole world. For Joseph is but an image of Christ, and we too are called to be likenesses of Him for the salvation of our fellows. It is through this following, and not through any sort of magical power, that we will “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and drive out demons” in loving obedience to our Lord, even if all we see is following through the dark valley (Mt 10:8). It is in this following that the “kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 10:7)