by Kyler Schubkegel
Hi St. John’s family, this is Kyler Schubkegel, and for today’s meditation I want to talk about receiving fruit. In the Old Testament reading from this past Sunday, in which Joseph reconciles with his brothers, I was particularly struck by Joseph’s response to the brothers’ dismay when they discover who it is that’s speaking to them. “And now,” he tells them, “do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Gen. 45.5). This strikes me as a very accurate psychological insight, acknowledging just how difficult it can be to accept forgiveness and reconciliation when we know we are to blame for the rift in the first place.
For instance, I think of my relationship with a very close friend and roommate in college. We were both smart, engaged, generally well-liked people, and we quickly developed the kind of “friendly rivalry” that is really just a shallow veneer for a tension that runs far deeper, barely concealing each person’s own insecurities. Eventually those insecurities overwhelmed me, and I more or less shut that friend out of my life for a couple years. I closed off my heart and hid my vulnerabilities away in an attempt to become impenetrable. Well, it turns out I did make myself somewhat impenetrable, to the extent that as my dear friend repeatedly spoke gracious and generous words to me and offered an unconditional welcome back into his life, I repeatedly and sullenly refused. It took the very active work of the Holy Spirit for me both to realize that the only person I was “shutting out” was myself and to embrace the welcome my friend offered.
What held me back was a type of shame, knowing that I absolutely did not deserve reconciliation and refusing to believe that he offered it to me regardless. How much more difficult, then, it can be to overcome the shame of continually turning our backs on God. It can feel almost shameful to embrace God’s unconditional welcome, to receive such a bountiful gift. It’s difficult to accept that God could be so radically gentle. And I think that is why the collect attached to our Sunday readings leads us to pray for “grace to receive thankfully the fruits of [Christ’s] redeeming work.” Receiving this fruit is not an act of nature, it’s above our nature – which means we need the gift of grace to accomplish it.
The story of Joseph and his family foreshadows this work of redemption and its fruits. Joseph forgives his brothers in the fullest sense possible: he does not simply absolve them of their wrongdoing but he brings them into his household in Egypt. He showers on them all the riches available to him as Pharaoh’s executive, becoming a type of Christ the Shepherd who “came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10.10). The exceeding gentleness of God’s providence ordains that even our mistakes, even our sins, are not beyond God’s ability to turn them on their head into life abundant. In our epistle reading from Sunday, St. Paul writes that we have been “imprisoned” in our disobedience, which might remind us of Joseph’s time in prison. In both cases, however, our weakness proves to be fertile soil in which God grows the fruits of redemption. This is the only possible answer to the shame that threatens to overwhelm us when we appraise ourselves honestly. “Do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here,” says Joseph to his brothers, and Paul encourages us that our own captivity to disobedience is not cause for despair but an opportunity for God to shower us with mercy and life abundant.
I want to close by connecting this with the Gospel reading as well. This story of the Canaanite woman’s persistence as she begs Jesus to heal her daughter is one of two passages that inspired one of my favorite liturgical prayers, called the Prayer of Humble Access. It’s spoken in preparation for receiving the Eucharist, and one part reads: “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy.” Even the most humble form of access to Christ’s mercy is a grace, a gift infused in us as we eat his flesh and drink his blood. Joseph’s brothers teach us the difficulty of receiving fruits, but the Canaanite woman teaches us boldness in approaching the throne of grace and lapping up every crumb that falls into our hands.
Let’s pray: Dear God, we at St. John’s once again pray for grace to receive thankfully the fruits of Christ’s redeeming work. We confess how difficult it is to accept your offer of unconditional reconciliation and welcome. Send us your Spirit to make us bold. As we continue to wait for the Eucharist, stir up our longing to be united with you in body and soul; and when the time comes, grant us the grace to receive it. In Christ’s name, Amen.
Featured image credit:
Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Girodet_Joseph_reconnu_par_ses_frères.JPG