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Paved with Ill Intentions

Paved with Ill Intentions

Wednesday, April 2, 2014 – Week of 4 Lent, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 101, Psalm 109:1-4(5-19)20-30 (morning) // 119:121-144 (evening)

Genesis 50:15-26

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

Mark 8:11-26

I’ve often heard that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” but today’s first reading suggests that the opposite might also be true. In the story of Joseph’s life, the ill intentions of his brothers lead to salvation for many. While the brothers intended to dispose of Joseph, he ended up in Egypt with the vision and foresight to prevent mass starvation. As Joseph tells his brothers, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.”

How might God be twisting ill intentions into good ends in our lives? It’s not always easy for us to see this big picture. Even making this observation about God’s work might feel like we are justifying ill will or harmful actions.

But the Bible is at least honest about the intentions of these brothers and the harm they cause. Joseph’s brothers are lying, conniving, and completely obsessed with self-preservation. When their father dies, they immediately start strategizing about how to protect themselves in case Joseph has a grudge against them. They tell Joseph that their father’s dying wish was that he forgive them. Perhaps as a victim of their emotional manipulation, Joseph weeps when he hears the alleged quote from his father: “forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.”

Sometimes, we become painfully aware of the destructive intentions and actions of people around us. Perhaps we can offer some degree of compassion for the fact that some people, at some times, may, like Joseph’s brothers, simply be consumed by jealousy, fear, and insecurity.

But while we sometimes get a transparent glimpse into the fear-induced, ill motivations of people who intend to harm us, I hope that we also receive some insight into how God bends the whole universe to serve the divine intention: “to preserve a numerous people.” Perhaps the road to salvation can be paved with ill intentions. Let’s just be sure to trample them hard on our way to all the good that God intends for all people.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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