Today’s readings are often outshone by Joseph and his amazing coat. “Typical Joseph,” his brothers might say. However, there is so much more going on in these Scriptures. We see greed and vengeance, famine and slavery, terrified Pharisees, and that famous cornerstone. But what about Reuben the eldest of the twelve sons of Jacob? He’s easy to miss, yet there is so much we can learn from him. As the oldest brother, he tried to guide his brothers in their actions.
“We must not take his life. Instead of shedding blood,” he continued, “just throw him into that cistern there in the desert; but do not kill him outright.” (Genesis 37:22)
How often do we say this? Not those exact words, of course, but we say this in other ways. So often we tolerate a bit of sin to keep the peace. We stick our necks out just far enough that we can dissent quietly and still appear to be a part of the crowd.
I had a conversation with a woman once where she told me about her choice to surgically prevent more pregnancies in her marriage. I was not sure how to respond. I did not want to offend this woman, and I certainly did not want to come off as holier-than-thou, and turn her away from Christ. My response was something along the lines of, “Well, each family has to make its own decision.” Very diplomatic. I walked away feeling like I had expressed my approval of her actions because of my watered down and barely recognizable opposition.
How should I have handled that situation? Honestly, I am not sure. It’s something I need to pray about. Lord, how can I defend your commands yet still show mercy to those in need?
Reuben was trying to help all of his brothers to avoid a sinful act, but he lacked the courage to really stop their evil intentions. We are all called to help our brothers and sisters to avoid sin, but doing it courageously and with charity is often tricky. Often a situation passes us by before we realize what has happened. Let’s ask God for the wisdom and His help to know how to respond in those moments in which we are called to proclaim truth to others in a merciful way. Let us ask Him to guide us on that fine line between condemning and condoning their actions.
Many of our past choices, those of family and friends around us, merit a merciful call to conversion. If you struggle with knowing what to say and how to say it, pray on it. Ask a trusted priest or spiritual advisor. Look to the Catechism for guidance.
Jenna Hines has a teeny army of children: Ellen, Samuel, Theodore, and Maryn and is married to a bearded fellow named Mike. She is happiest when it is sunny outside and she has an embroidery needle in her hand. You can find out more about her here.