Sunday, July 30, 2017

How ALL Things Work for Good for Those Who Love God

(Seventeenth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on July 30, 2017 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Romans 8: 28-30.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Seventeenth Sunday 2017]

“Brothers and sisters: We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

St. Paul tells us that in today’s second reading from Romans 8.

But, how can this be true?  Realistically, how is this possible, given all the evil that’s present in the world?

  • ·         How, for example, can experiencing hatred work for someone’s good?  (In other words, how can anything good come out of something as evil as hatred?)
  • ·         How can experiencing envy work for someone’s good?
  • ·         How can being lied about, or being in prison, or being a slave, or being torn away from your father, or almost being murdered by people in your own family: how can any of these things work for a person’s good—even if the person loves Almighty God with all his heart and soul and mind and strength?

For the answer to those questions, my brothers and sisters, we need to go to Joseph.  No, not Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, but rather Joseph, the Patriarch—one of the twelve sons of Jacob—whose story is told to us in the Old Testament Book of Genesis.

I say that we need to go to Joseph because he experienced every single one of those evils I just mentioned: hatred, envy, slavery, prison, etc.

Most of us, I’m sure, know at least the basic outline of his story, but for the benefit of the few who might not …

Joseph was the eleventh of Jacob’s twelve sons: the child of his father’s “old age,” as the Bible puts it.  But, even though he was number eleven on the birthday list of the sons of Jacob, Joseph was number one in his father’s heart.  And Jacob made that abundantly clear to everyone, especially when he gave Joseph a special tunic to wear.  (Some of you may remember the musical that was named for that event: “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”)

Joseph’s older brothers hated and envied him for the relationship he had with his dad—so much so that they actually hatched a plot to kill their brother, throw his dead body into a cistern, and then tell his dad that he had been eaten by wild animals.  Thankfully they thought better of that plan, and decided instead to sell Joseph to some Ishmaelites who happened to be passing by one day on their way down to Egypt.

There Joseph became the slave of Pharaoh’s chief steward, a man named Potiphar, whose wife thought that Joseph was kinda cute.  So she tried to seduce him—several times!  (See what interesting stories you can find in the Bible!  Yet another reason to read the Scriptures!)

Anyhow, when she failed to have her way with Joseph, Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of sexually assaulting her, and had him thrown into jail—where he remained until the day he was asked to interpret a dream for Pharaoh.  The dream, according to Joseph, predicted seven years of bountiful harvests which would be followed by seven years of famine.  Pharaoh accepted the interpretation, and proceeded to make Joseph the number two man in the entire nation of Egypt!  He then put him in charge of stockpiling food for the next seven years, so that there would be enough food to last for the seven lean years.

And Joseph did it.  He did it so well, in fact, that people from outside of Egypt came to him to get food during those seven lean years, since the famine wasn’t just affecting the Egyptians.

Well guess who showed up one day looking to buy some grain.  That’s right: his ten older brothers.  They didn’t recognize him, but he sure recognized them!  It was the perfect chance for some “payback”; it was the perfect opportunity for Joseph to finally get his revenge—to get revenge for all those things I mentioned at the beginning of my homily: the hatred, the envy, the attempted murder, the slavery, the prison, the lying, the separation from the father he loved so deeply and who so deeply loved him.

But that’s not what Joseph did.  Yes, he did put his brothers to the test a couple of times, but in the end he forgave them and revealed himself to them.  And when he did reveal his identity, he said something that makes it clear that he believed this truth which St. Paul expressed so beautifully in Romans 8:28: that ALL THINGS work together for good, for those who love God.  Listen to these words from Genesis 45:

“Come closer to me,” Joseph told his brothers. When they had done so, he said: “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.  But now do not be distressed, and do not be angry with yourselves for having sold me here.  It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you.  The famine has been in the land for two years now, and for five more years cultivation will yield no harvest.  God, therefore, sent me on ahead of you to ensure for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance.  So it was not really you but God who had me come here; and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his household, and ruler over the whole land of Egypt.”
“It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you.”  Joseph could see beyond all the evil he had experienced to the good that God had brought out of that evil.  Now please do not misunderstand.  He wasn’t happy about the evil—he wasn’t thrilled that he hadn’t seen his dad in years or that he had been a prisoner and a slave—but he was able to see how even those injustices and sufferings and trials had worked together for his good—and not only for his good, but also for the good of many other people, both in and out of Egypt.

“We know that ALL things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

Notice it does not say there that everything that happens to God-loving people is good—because it’s not true.  Joseph (and many others) have shown us that sometimes very bad things happen to godly people.  But by God’s grace even those bad things can work for a godly person’s ultimate benefit, and for the ultimate benefit of many others.

This even applies, believe it or not, to our sins—if we repent of them, confess them and turn away from them.

St. Paul has shown us that.  After his conversion he used his forgiven sins for good, by talking about them when he was trying to encourage other people to seek God’s mercy—especially those who might have thought that they were beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness.  In First Timothy 1, for example, he wrote:
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, that he has made me his servant and judged me faithful.  I was once a blasphemer, a persecutor, a man filled with arrogance; but because I did not know what I was doing in my unbelief, I have been treated mercifully, and the grace of our Lord has been granted me in overflowing measure, along with the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.  You can depend on this as worthy of full acceptance: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  Of these I myself am the worst.  But on that very account I was dealt with mercifully, so that in me, as an extreme case, Jesus Christ might display all his patience, and that I might be an example to those who would later have faith in him.
“That I might be an example …”  That was Paul’s way of saying, “If God can forgive me for all I did in my past life, he can forgive anybody—including you.”

“For those who love God ALL things work for good.”

This is a truth, my brothers and sisters, that many of us don’t reflect on often enough—so I invite you to do that sometime during this coming week.  When you have fifteen or twenty minutes of time (and we all do), sit down in a quiet place (maybe a church or a room at home) and reflect on the significant events of your life (the good ones, the bad ones—even the painful ones), and ask the Lord to help you to see how all these experiences have worked for your good, and for the good of those with whom you share your life.

And when God does help you to see those good things—those gifts—those blessings—please do remember to thank him.