Why Joseph?

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Why Joseph? Joseph, because some of the men I’ve visited in prisons speak of Joseph, son of Jacob from the book of Genesis, as a brother, as a companion, as sharing something of their own experience. They are the ones who’ve pointed me to Joseph. His story speaks to them of their own stories. Though different in considerable ways, there’s much there with which they identify. Joseph was thrown in a pit and forgotten. He was taken into captivity in a foreign land far from his father and mother, and made to feel very low and utterly forgotten.

Yet Joseph was a dreamer. Joseph stayed true to his dreams as so many of the men I’ve visited. Though often weighed down by despair, these men find themselves dreaming of a life where they are reconciled with their families, their communities, their friends. They seek to tap into those higher truths of their existence, and express their capacity to love and to receive love, and their capacity to be just and to receive justice.

The story of Joseph carries within it a story about the importance of truth, more specifically confronting difficult truths that often can be easily forgotten. It is a story that deals with recognizing historical wrongdoings, of coming to terms with realities of violence – both personal and political – and  how violence can tear apart families, communities, brothers, and society writ larger. The story of Joseph, like so many of the stories of those men I’ve come to know cast away in human warehouses made of concrete and steel, tells the story of not only one family, of a tribe, but also how contained within this family drama is told a much larger story, the history of a nation and of a people marked by hatred and vengeance. 

Why Joseph? Because Joseph becomes a symbol of transcendence. Joseph becomes a symbol of what can happen when one remains faithful to justice but also to the possibility of mercy and reconciliation, that one day one can share a meal and turn former enemies into friends. In the end, I believe the Joseph story, though written millennia ago, still speaks to us about the deeper realities of our human family and of our dire need for truth, for mercy, and for reconciliation. Joseph’s story is our story. Their stories are our stories.

by Fr. Dustin

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