On death and grief in families
A Reflection for Friday of the Second Week of Lent
Find today’s readings here.
Today’s readings focus on death and grief in families. From the book of Genesis, we learn about young Joseph. He is his father’s favorite, which makes his brothers hate him, ostracize him and sell him into slavery. The first lesson for parents is: Never have a favorite child. (Or never let on that you have a favorite child.) Then the Gospel reading tells the tragedy of a father sending his beloved son into a violent mob, resulting in the son’s murder. The second lesson for parents: Never assume that other people will love your child the way you do.
Families are funny. Until they aren’t. We are born into a unique group of family members who name us and call us one of their own. We learn our first lessons and our first values from our families. We grow up trusting in their love. It is more painful, then, to be harmed by our families than by strangers. Joseph’s dad believes his son will be safe with his older brothers. The owner of the vineyard believes his son will be safe with his tenants. Both fathers find they are wrong, left to mourn beloved sons who are victims of jealousy.
Jesus’s story foretells what will happen to him at the hands of his jealous countrymen: God the father has sent his beloved son to the people who will put his son to death. Jesus ends with the warning that the father “will put those wretched men to a wretched death.” The chief priests and Pharisees know he is talking to them, but they still plot to rid themselves of this new prophet in their midst.
It is the prophet’s fate to be cast out and even to be attacked because it is in the prophet’s job description to say things people emphatically do not want to hear. But even when we are not prophets, should we turn out somehow different from our families, we are sometimes punished. We may be shunned or ignored, no longer welcome in our own homes. As an awful example, I had a gay friend whose family not only cut him out of their lives but refused to bury him when he died of AIDS. Thirty or so years later, the memory grieves me. Being true to oneself can pay a great price.
In counterpoint to the tragic outcomes in today’s readings, Jesus reminds us that nothing matters more than being true to God. God calls us to stay strong in the face of rejection, to be brave even when we are scared and to have faith that God’s will is the best, if not the easiest, road forward. We are prophets in our own small ways. We are stones that God the builder does not reject.