Re-Genesis - Michael Van Dusen | Feb 24, 2019 |
Joseph, the main character in the first reading for Feb. 24, (Genesis 45.3-11, 15) was one of 12 brothers and his father, Jacob’s, favourite. His other brothers were jealous, so they seized him, sold him to traders who were going to Egypt and told their father that he was dead. The traders sold Joseph to the captain of the Pharaoh’s guard. Over time, and with many twists and turns, Joseph managed to gain great power and influence with Egypt’s pharaoh through his ability to interpret dreams and foretell the future.
When years of famine affected Joseph’s family back in Israel, they sought help in Egypt, not knowing that their brother Joseph had great authority there. They had come into his presence, not recognizing him, but Joseph knew who they were. This is the background to the first reading.
Then Joseph could no longer control himself … and he cried out, “Send everyone away.” So no one stayed with him. Then Joseph made himself known to his brothers… Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.
The realization that Joseph was alive and powerful was a kind of epiphany: a stunning reversal of the expected and a revelation to “foreigners” of God’s greatness.
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” …. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.
Ignoring the history of his relationship with his brothers, Joseph identifies himself to them and embraces them. He could have used his power to get even but did not.
And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.
Joseph sees all of his personal history, such as his brothers’ selling him into slavery, as part of God’s purpose. This new perspective reframes the past and paves the way for the future.
Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ …. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.
It was on the basis of Joseph’s invitation to his brothers that the Israelites came to Egypt (from whence, Moses would have to lead them…but that was much later.)
Martin Luther gives this reading a profound Christological interpretation. As Luther saw it, Joseph, like Christ, was hated, betrayed, sold into death then reappeared in glory.
This reading from Genesis, about Joseph is paired with the gospel of Jesus’ instruction to love your enemies (Luke 6.27-38). The gospel story is part of Jesus’ instruction to his new disciples that began in last week’s gospel when he told them “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”
The gospel for February 24thcontinues with the counterintuitive messages. He might well have been reflecting on Joseph’s behaviour. I say to you “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. … love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.
One wonders about the extent that Jesus had reflected on the story of Joseph who seems to be a model of this behaviour. Regardless, Jesus followed through on his instructions to his disciples in his own life. He did not curse the Roman soldiers or the priests and scribes who tortured him. After his resurrection he did not punish Peter, who had denied him, or on the others who had fled. Instead, he asked Do you love me (John 21:15-17)
Do you think Joseph hated his brothers at the time they sold him to the merchants in the caravan? Did he have to undergo a transformation to love? Or had he forgiven them as it was happening?What went through the minds of Joseph’s brothers when they realized that the powerful Egyptian official was their brother? Did they fear that he would take revenge? Did they secretly hope that he would be kind? Did they try to figure out Joseph’s path from slavery to power? Did it occur to them, as it had to Joseph, that this was part of God’s plan?Do you think that some of Jesus’ disciples were troubled by his instruction to Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you? Did some of them recall personal enemies who hated them and cursed them or others who had cheated and abused them? How did they manage to hear these words, reconcile their feelings and continue to follow Jesus?