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Joseph’s story teaches us to resist the senseless cycle of revenge

Joseph F. Naumann is Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

With most everyone else in the Kansas City metro area, I was disappointed with the Chiefs’ overtime loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Chiefs had another amazing season. For the past several years, the Chiefs have been both exciting and entertaining. In their game against the Buffalo Bills, the Chiefs pulled off one of the most improbable come-from-behind victories in NFL history.

I enjoy sports. It is for me one of my preferred forms of entertainment. What makes sports particularly enjoyable are the unpredictable outcomes. In every sport, there are improbable upsets and thrilling come-from-behind victories.

Sadly, sports can become an idol for some. If we make sports more important than our relationship with God, then our fascination with athletics becomes a form of idolatry.

However, sports, especially team sports, can help young people develop virtues —  e.g., working hard to achieve a common goal, developing skills through practice and discipline, making personal sacrifices for the good of the team, and resilience — as well the determination not to give up even when defeat appears certain.

This is what I and so many others admired in the Chiefs’ victory over the Buffalo Bills. When everyone else, including the national sports announcers, had declared a Bills’ victory, the Chiefs did not throw in the towel but had the confidence that the impossible was still possible. Resilience and perseverance are great virtues — not just for athletics, but for life.

In December, the Year of St. Joseph officially concluded. I hope and pray we all continue to develop a deeper friendship with St. Joseph. Perhaps because of our shared name, I have always also been fascinated by the story in the Book of Genesis about Joseph, the son of Jacob.

Jacob’s special affection for Joseph provoked jealousy in the hearts of his brothers. The brothers planned to kill Joseph, but instead decided to turn a profit by selling him into slavery to a caravan on its way to Egypt. 

Joseph, after suffering a great deal and being placed in prison for a crime he had not committed, wins the favor of Pharaoh through God’s amazing providence, becoming the equivalent of Egypt’s prime minister.

When famine devastates the Promised Land, Jacob sends his sons to Egypt to acquire food. Joseph recognizes his brothers but they are clueless about his true identity. Eventually, Joseph reveals to them that he is their brother whom they had sold into slavery.

Joseph is reunited with his father Jacob. He had been lost to Jacob but is now found. Joseph welcomes Jacob, his brothers and their families. Joseph chooses not to allow himself to become bitter for the injustice he suffered.

However, when Jacob died, his sons became fearful that Joseph may justifiably harbor a grudge against them. With their father dead, the sons of Jacob fear that Joseph will now punish them for the sins of their past. 

The brothers of Joseph beg for his forgiveness and ask merely to be considered among Joseph’s slaves. Joseph responds by reassuring them he intends no revenge, declaring: “Have no fear. Can I take the place of God? Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve his present end, the survival of many people. Therefore, have no fear. I will provide for you and your children.”

Joseph of Genesis illustrates the mercy that God requires from his disciples. Joseph is well aware that driven by jealousy his brothers had inflicted a terrible injustice upon him. Nevertheless, God was faithful and turned his brothers’ treachery into something good. Joseph is placed by God in a position where he can help his father and all his family.

Our natural instinct is to respond to evil with evil, but Joseph refuses to allow himself to get caught up in the temptation for revenge.

What his brothers intended as evil, God has turned into good. Joseph refuses to indulge himself in justifiable anger for what was done to him.

Joseph not only chooses to refrain from revenge, but actually personally provides assistance and help for his brothers and their families.

The Joseph of Genesis has important lessons for us today. Disciples of Jesus must refuse to get caught up in the fruitless cycle of revenge. We are called to trust, that even when we are victimized by others, Jesus can use our affliction to bring forth good.

The disciples of Jesus are never without hope. We have an incredible capacity for resilience. Our Lord can draw forth graces from the most bitter and cruel evil. If we persevere in our faith in a loving God, then the Lord will turn our adversities into moments of grace for us and others. As St. Paul reminds us: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

This faith in the abiding love of Jesus gives the Christian the resilience not to allow fear to paralyze or overwhelm us. God can and will turn for good the evils and adversities of this world.

We are never without hope, because we know God is with us. If we trust in the fidelity of God to his children, then fear has no power over us. Our fidelity combined with God’s amazing love makes the improbable always possible.

About the author

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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