When his brothers saw that their father loved him best of all his sons, they hated him so much that they would not even greet him.
Reflecting on Jesus' parable of the wicked tenants, I wrote an excellent reflection on the Father, Son and Holy Spirit on this occasion last year. The Genesis story of Jacob's beloved son Joseph lends itself to a similar essay.
What is it about Jesus that arouses such virulent hatred? There is something in his purity that must be violated.
More importantly, will those who swear by their baptisms that they belong to him risk attracting the same animosity? Or do they suppose that purity, integrity and courage are neither necessary nor viable in our more civilized, technocratic society?
First, let's recall Jacob's son, Joseph. Jacob favored him because he was Rachel's first born; his ten half-brothers were Leah's children. So his father's preference had nothing to do with his looks, strength, ability or virtue.
Many people would regard Jacob's preference as unfair; they think God's preference for Jews and Christians is also unfair. Unfair is one of those artificial ideals that distorts western thought; it purports to level society making everyone equal despite their manifest differences. In the process, like Procrustes' bed, it forces every child of God to fit one unnatural standard. The wise parent may love all her children "equally" but she honors each one's difference. She will not in fairness expect her clumsiest child to undertake the most delicate project with the same grace as her other children.
Unfortunately for him, Joseph misread his father's doting affection and regarded himself as superior to his older siblings. He flouted his coat of many colors when discretion would have dressed more modestly. They didn't respond well when he told them about his dream of ruling over them.
We can leave Joseph's story at that point and turn to the story of Jesus. We may not agree with his brothers' anger at Rachel's son but we can understand it.
Jesus' superiority is not manifest by any common standard. He is not well-born, wealthy, well-educated or singularly handsome. (Or, if he had any those assets, the evangelists ignored them.) His purity is much simpler. He is good. By his goodness he speaks to the lowly and despised; he cares for the alien, orphan and widow; he touches the unclean; he heals the sick; he does not seem to notice anyone's superior status.
That kind of behavior infuriates the righteous; they fervently believe they deserve preferential treatment from the Son of God. Like Joseph, they are born to preference and assume it's owed to them. Like Joseph's brothers, they conspire against him.
Catholics do not forget their history. We remember persecutions from Roman times until the present in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. Our particular challenge is to recognize the hostility as nothing unusual; as the typical, normal response of a sinful world. We should be neither surprised nor resentful about it:
“If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you,‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
Today, on this Friday of the second week of Lent, we reflect on the suffering of Jesus and prepare for whatever may come.