Descending – a meditation on the lectionary

by xcrawford

CC-BY-NC Brett Sayer



“or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).


This week’s lectionary readings are a meditation on descent.

Katabasis – Descending 

The “catabasis phenomenon” in Robert Bly’s Iron John describes a type of descent into depression, Commonly, it is a young male who descends into depression because of separation from a strong father figure or because of a lack of rituals and ceremonies to mark his growth as a man.

Joseph, the favorite son, was separated from his loving father – separated from others who worshiped Yahweh, the Eternal Triune God.

The Old Testament lesson find Joseph, descending from his spot of honor as”favorite son,” descending into the well, descending from the Promised Land to worldly Egypt, descending into slavery.

Joseph’s Brothers (to each other): 19 Oh, here comes the great dreamer. 20 Let’s kill him and throw his body into one of the pits. Then we can tell everyone a wild animal killed and devoured him. We’ll see then what becomes of his stupid dreams.

21 When Reuben heard the plan, he tried to help Joseph.

Reuben: Let’s not kill him. 22 We don’t need to shed any blood to be free of him. Let’s just toss him into some pit here in the wilderness. We don’t need to lay a hand on him.

Reuben thought perhaps he could secretly come back later and get Joseph out of the pit and take him home to their father before any more harm came to him.

The brothers agreed. 23 When Joseph arrived, they ripped his robe off of him—the fancy, colorful robe he always wore that his father had made for him, 24 and they threw him into the pit. Now this pit happened to be an empty cistern; there was no water in it.

25 Then they sat down to eat. Soon they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelite traders approaching from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with gum, balm, and a fragrant resin; and they were on their way down to Egypt with their goods.

Judah (to his brothers): 26 What profit will it be for us if we just kill our brother and conceal the crime? 27 Come on, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites instead. We won’t have to lay a hand on him then. He is, after all, our brother, our own flesh and blood.

All of the brothers agreed. 28 As the Midianite traders were passing by, they brought Joseph up out of the pit and sold him to the Ishmaelites for about eight ounces of silver, the usual price of young male slaves. The traders set off with Joseph in the direction of Egypt.

—Genesis 37:19-28


Our Gospel lesson finds Peter, loosing faith, taking his sight off of Christ and descending, falling, sinking, slipping,falling below the waves. His eyes fell/descended to the waves about him. His faith fell,sank, descended in his heart as the water ascended around him.

Peter: 28 Lord, if it is really You, then command me to meet You on the water.

Jesus: 29 Indeed, come.

Peter stepped out of the boat onto the water and began walking toward Jesus. 30 But when he remembered how strong the wind was, his courage caught in his throat and he began to sink.

Peter: Master, save me!

31 Immediately Jesus reached for Peter and caught him.

Jesus: O you of little faith. Why did you doubt and dance back and forth between following Me and heeding fear?

—Matthew 14:28-31


The Gospel of Christ is a story of Descent.

Jesus came down -descended- from Heaven.

He became incarnate- took on flesh- descended into a body.

Descended into the grave, and to the place of the dead.

But he ASCENDED back to glory —

He will descend again,when he returns for His Bride, the Church.