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Benjamin’s Sorrow

May 10th, 2013by Sean Ater

You will, without doubt, succeed, if you never lose sight of the great consoling truth that nothing happens in this world but by the command of God, or at least, with His divine permission; and that whatever He wills, or permits turns infallibly to the advantages of those who are submissive and resigned [to God]. – Jean-Pierre de Caussade.


Joseph Claims Benjamin as his Slave’, painting by Cristóbal de Villalpando, 1700-1714

I have recently been working my way through a spiritually intense book called Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean-Pierre de Caussade. Caussade makes a reference to Benjamin, the youngest son of Jacob and half-brother to Joseph. Benjamin is a minor Old Testament character, but the reference really struck me as a wonderful image in making sense of sorrow and suffering:

Joseph caused Benjamin to weep, and his servants kept his secret from this beloved brother. Joseph deceived him, and not all his penetration and wit could fathom this deception. Benjamin and his brothers were plunged into unspeakable sorrow but Joseph was only playing a trick on them, although the poor brothers could see nothing but evil without any remedy. When he reveals himself and puts everything right they admire his wisdom in making them think that all is lost, and to cause them despair about that which turns out to be a subject of the greatest joy they have every experienced (Abandonment, Section II – Diversity of Grace).

Caussade is referencing the famous story of Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers only to rise through the ranks of Egyptian hierarchy. In a time of famine, Joseph’s brothers are forced to leave their homeland and travel to Egypt in the hopes of finding salvation. Instead they are confronted by an unrecognized Joseph who turns their hoped for salvation into their worst nightmare. Suddenly they face imprisonment and the loss of their beloved younger brother Benjamin. When all seems lost, the curtains are pulled aside and a salvation even greater than the one they first sought is revealed. Joseph is not dead. He is alive, and he offers forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration.

Joseph is a Christ figure in this story. God does not intentionally trick us like Joseph did to his brothers but we can all think of times in our life when we could not fathom the mysterious will of God. We can all point to moments in our life when we were plunged into an unspeakable sorrow that seemed to have no remedy.

That is what is so glorious about the Resurrection! Who could have imagined that the passion and death of the Messiah would tear apart the curtain that divided us from God and offer us salvation, redemption, and reunion with the very Person we put to death?

So what are we to do when we find ourselves like Benjamin and his brothers, when the mysterious Will of God becomes unfathomable? The answer is as simple as it is difficult; submit, resign, abandon yourself to Christ who rose from the dead.

Photo credit: used from public domain

Sean Ater

Sean Ater is the Director of the Office of the New Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. He is married with 3 children and a parishioner at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Milford