The Parish priest was visiting a family. He was greeted by the lady in the house who was pregnant with her second child. Her first child was a three-year-old boy. The priest asked her whether she had prepared the boy to accept the second child. She said, “Yes, of course. In fact, he is excited about the arrival of the baby. But, I do not know how he will react when the new baby does not go back after a few days…”
The eldest child of every family knows how it feels to share the love of its parents with its siblings. If not well handled, the first child can turn aggressive against its siblings. A wonderful inheritance that the parents can leave behind for their children is loving and caring siblings. Poor sibling relationship is the reflection of poor parenting. When siblings become adults, their inadequate relationship may express itself in the form of snubbing.
Snubbing is a bad and sad scenario, not seldom appearing in our social life. When it takes place in the family circles, it is all the more hurting. When some of the family members rise high in education, wealth, influence and power, they are tempted to snub their siblings and relatives who are far below their status. If this can be the case even with those siblings who were very close to each other in their childhood, one can imagine how ugly snubbing can turn among the siblings who fought each other even in the early years of life. Patriarch Joseph did not have fond childhood memories about his elder brothers. In fact, elder brothers treated him like an enemy. As a result, he had to live like a slave, prisoner and refugee for long. When Joseph and brothers meet again, their status have changed immensely. Now, Joseph is the powerful administrator of a mighty nation, and the loyal officer of its king. His brothers are poor shepherds seeking food for survival.
Joseph could have avoided his siblings once he realized that they have not improved their financial or social status to anywhere near his status. This option might have been all the more tempting as he knew that his brothers had not recognized him as their younger brother. Even after they recognized each other Joseph could have kept them away from Egypt by making arrangements of food supply for his family in Canaan, in view of his love for his father, Jacob and younger brother Benjamin.
No, nothing of this sort occurred in the mind of Joseph. He welcomed his family to Egypt. He knew that his brothers were all shepherds and that the shepherds were despised by the Egyptians. He himself tells his brothers, “…All shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians” (Genesis 46:34). The king of Egypt also had cattle and sheep. It indicates that the contempt towards the shepherds was not unqualified.
Why were the shepherds considered an abomination? Several reasons are forwarded to explain this negative attitude towards the shepherds. The first explanation is that, in Egypt the shepherds were generally considered as thieves. Shepherds would steal cattle and other things of the villagers at night. The second explanation is political. Egypt had the history of being invaded and ruled by foreign shepherd kings. Their atrocities have made the Egyptians hate shepherds for ever. The third and most probable reason why the Canaanite shepherds were despised by the Egyptians is that they sacrificed oxen to their God. It was an abhorrent thing for the Egyptians who worshipped the sacred bull Apis.
Though Joseph knew very well that the occupation of his brothers would in no way augment his status in Egypt and would only be a liability for him, he did not disown them. Nor did he ask them to give up their profession or to hide the nature of their livelihood from others. Rather, he asked them to honestly admit it to the Pharaoh. As shepherds, the brothers of Joseph could live in isolation from the Egyptians who despised them. But, this isolation has greatly helped them to keep away from the idolatry of the Egyptians to a great extend.
In a brother who did not hesitate to hug his “despicable” brothers, Israel secured its life, faith and identity.