The Catholic Letter

Catholic Explanations

Joseph and Jesus

Joseph was the favored of Israel. Out of jealousy for their father's favor, his brothers sold him into slavery. Their original plan was to kill him, but Ruben talked them out of that.

Consider the parallels between the story of Joseph and the story of Christ. Twice that we hear of, the Father identified Jesus to others as "My Son." The first time, at the baptism of Jesus, was a declaration to all those present. The Father says "This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased."

To the scribes and pharisees, if any were present, this might have been taken an awful lot like Israel's favor of Joseph. Here is the upstart young rabbi, and the Father not only announces His favor with Him, but then actually demonstrates that favor with the granting of miracles on nothing more than a simple command. "What about us?" they might have thought. "We've been working hard to study the law, and living it assiduously for everyone to see. Why would God favor this man, rather than us?"

And, like Joseph's brothers, who plotted to kill him, the scribes and pharisees plotted to kill Jesus.

But consider what then happened, in both stories. Of course, in the case of Joseph, he wasn't actually killed, but that is the story that was reported to his father, Israel. Joseph was taken to the land of Egypt. He was taken from his own family, the land he knew, and sent into a strange land. Imagine all the exotic statues, buildings, clothes, and practices that met his eyes as he was entering the land of the Nile.

This is similar to the fate of the Gospel message. Jesus is the beloved Son of the Father. Those who thought themselves closest to God grew jealous of His favor. They killed Him. Then His message of salvation passed into a strange land: that of the gentiles. The entire history of the Hebrew people had been a preparation for bringing salvation into the world, and when it arrived, they rejected the Person in Whom it arrived. Now the Gospel message passed from those who should have been its caretakers to those who had none of the history, tradition, or teachings in law that are so key to fully understanding it. The Gospel had passed from its home into a land that would eventually give birth to Christmas trees and the Easter Bunny.

But there's even more to the parallel. Joseph, having been sold out by his brothers and sent to a strange land, then returned the favor by saving his brothers. When the entire region was going through a famine, the Egyptians were living well because of Joseph's interpretation of Pharaoh's dream. Joseph, harboring none of the resentment or ill will that we might expect of a lesser man, brought his brothers and father to live with him in the land of plenty.

The Gospel, likewise, banished to a land that could barely understand it, now turns back to those who banished it, offering in the same manner as Joseph to his brothers, salvation.