This is one of those instances when we remember daily Mass attendance cannot meet all our spiritual needs; we must also study the scriptures privately so as to understand what we hear proclaimed from the lectern.
The story of Joseph the Patriarch has been chopped into small pieces and scattered over several days in the lectionary; portions of it have been skipped altogether. The editors selected certain verses for our reflection, but they do not say how or why they chose these verses. I suppose we should find in them inspiration and reflection about Christ, the Gospel, the saints and our church.
But an adult Catholic should be familiar with the entire story of Joseph. His unfortunate encounter with Potiphar's wife (chapter 39), for instance, deserves our attention in the light of current controversies. So that (if, for no other reason) we might understand what some misogynists are talking about when they refer to it. The story does not appear in our lectionary.
In today's selection from Genesis, we hear of Joseph's testing his treacherous brothers. He has unexpectedly survived their selling him into slavery; in fact he now holds life-and-death authority over them and they don't even recognize him.
Because he has never lost his filial affection for his father Jacob; and because he has gained some wisdom through slavery, imprisonment and God's mercy; and because he shares Jacob's craftiness, he sets up an elaborate ruse. He holds Simeon for ransom while the rest return to Palestine to retrieve their youngest brother Benjamin (Joseph's full brother by their mother Rachel). This is typical of Mideast dealings, even to this day. Beloved sons and daughters of foreign potentates are more valuable than money; it pays to hold them hostage. It was not unusual for ancient princes and princesses to spend their lives as "guests" in foreign cities. They might enjoy some privileges and comfort so long as their distant parents did nothing foolish. like rebellion.
Jacob's bullying sons must return to Egypt with Benjamin and their father to rescue Simeon. They had once sold their brother Joseph into slavery, would they betray another one of their own?
They cannot imagine the whole family will be restored when they do so. But God's ways are not our ways and Joseph enjoys an extraordinary insight into the mind of God.
The suggested collect for today, from the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time, recalls God's fidelity to those who are set firmly on the foundation of his love. The sons of Jacob enjoyed that privilege despite their failings, frictions and fractions. Great-grandchildren of Abraham, they were set firmly in God's promise, not because they were deserving but because God had sworn it.
We too, by our baptism, enjoy that privileged place in God's eyes. He may treat us as sternly as Joseph treated his brothers but we should never doubt his love.