Last Sunday Joseph’s brothers, intimidated by his fancy clothes and jealous of the high regard in which their father held him, sold him into slavery (Genesis 37). We begin today eight chapters later, but it is good to look at what happened during that interval of several years.
Joseph has prospered mightily. “It was he who sold to all the people of the land.” (42:6) . Because of Joseph’s foresight, Egypt has grain in the midst of the famine which he predicted. He now serves as Pharaoh’s CEO and CFO combined. Joseph has the title of ‘Governor.’
Meanwhile, because of the famine, back home his father Jacob and his eleven brothers are not doing well. Jacob has heard of the supply of grain in Egypt and sends all of his sons except Benjamin, the youngest, to try to buy a supply. In keeping Benjamin at home, Jacob reasons that at least he will have one son left if ill befalls all the others.
When Joseph encounters his ten brothers, they do not recognize him. Joseph speaks to them through an interpreter, and they think he does not understand what they say to each other. Then Joseph accuses them of being spies, puts them in prison, and declares they will never be released unless they can return home and retrieve Benjamin. One of them must remain in prison as a surety.
What a delightful drama queen.
Joseph knows they will come to no harm, yet puts them through an experience of perceiving serious jeopardy to heighten their empathy. And it works: they see the parallel between their jeopardy and the jeopardy into which they had earlier placed their brother. “Alas, we are paying the penalty for what we did to our brother; we saw his anguish when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen. That is why this anguish has come upon us.”
Joseph hears this and has to leave to cry elsewhere, lest he give away his identity before their education is complete. He is moved not by making them hurt, but by hearing them grow into empathy.
I regret that the lectionary skips these chapters. We also miss the graphic detail of Joseph when he first arrived in Egypt as a slave of a master whom he makes even more prosperous. He is a handsome bachelor and the master’s wife gets the hetero-hots for him. She‘s quite importunate. To escape, Joseph leaves his garment in her hands. Like a flasher, the handsome slave dashes naked down the streets to avoid her.
What I find particularly heartening in today’s reading is not so much Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers, but his rationale for forgiving them. He loves them. He has never stopped loving them. That is reason enough to find meaning in the harm he endured at their hands.
Had they not mistreated him, none of the good things in Egypt would have occurred. Joseph gives God the credit, and chooses to let his brothers be free of blame because they were God‘s instruments in making good come for them all. “Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves…. for God sent me before you to preserve life.”
O that disputants in the Church and in the Anglican Communion could so love one another.
I am convinced that my brothers ++Peter Akinola (Archbishop of All of Nigeria) and ++Henry Orombi (Archbishop of Uganda) are working out God’s will in excoriating lesbians and gays. In making scapegoats of us, they will force the entire Communion to discover the vast store of love that God has for everybody. Indeed, the entire history of Christianity has been its extension one by one to yet another group of hitherto excluded persons.
God has sent queers into the church “to keep alive for you many survivors.”
Many LGBTs are in the Church not because of what the Church can give to us, but because of what God wants to give the church through us. It would be spiritually dangerous for lesbians and gays to bang at the door importuning, ‘Let us in! Let us in! Let us in!” God has already set a place for us at the holy table. It is not ourselves whom we proclaim, but God. God’s grace is sufficient.
Today’s psalm will make your local dry cleaner’s eyes flash like a cash register. An oiled collar is not exactly the image I would choose for physical pleasure, but as old baldy perhaps I am too far away from Vitalis to remember what it felt like.
1. Oh, how good and pleasant it is, when brethren live together in unity!
2 It is like fine oil upon the head that runs down upon the beard,
3 Upon the beard of Aaron, and runs down upon the collar of his robe.
Last month I was in Georgia for a family wedding of one of our great-nephews, who had not been born when Ernest and I married in 1974. Nor had been most members of the wedding party. I enjoyed the hair-dos, especially those with spiked hair. “But does it stay up like that when you sleep, or do you have to spike it all over again?” I asked a niece. “Yes, she has to spike it all over again,” her nephew said, as an eye witness to the repeated ritual. I keep drenching it in hairspray, she admitted.
How good and pleasant indeed to live together in unity.
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
I continue to enjoy the amount of time Saint* invests in explaining Jewish matters to his gentile converts in Rome. Today he sounds like Joseph in his reasoning. Good is coming from evil, they both assert. You gentiles are getting the grace of God because of something that went wrong: the Jews have defaulted on their part of God’s irrevocable contract: they won’t get the blessing, but you will instead.
Saint* stresses, “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.”
Even if you are lesbian and gay and disobedient to boot?
Yes, even if you are lesbian and gay and disobedient to boot.
Fret not over the sins of anyone else. Seek in them how God might intend a blessing for absolutely everybody.
*I use Gore Vidal’s nickname for St. Paul
Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28
Few heterosexuals will talk publicly about one reason that some have trouble with lesbians and gays, namely, the ick factor. We repulse them when they imagine what we might put into our mouths.
St. Peter had the same ick factor when in a dream in Joppa the sheet was lowered offering him all sorts of forbidden edibles.
The Pharisees in today’s reading are quite upset that Jesus does not follow the rules. Indeed, so would be your local Health Department. Jesus tells his employees it is not important to wash their hands before eating! Icky!
Of course, the subtext is what is really important here: Change what you consider icky! “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”
“Very Man of Very Man”
If you have any doubt that Jesus became a real human being bound and limited in one time, place, and culture, look at the blatant judeo-centrism at the end of today’s Gospel. His disciples tell him to send away the Canaanite woman who is shouting for Jesus to cast out the demon in her daughter. When she finally gets to Jesus himself, he insults her telling her that he has come to minister to Jews, not to others, and mocks, “"It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."
She does not stand up to say, “How dare you suggest that God has made my daughter and me as of no more value than dogs!?”
Instead, at least for the moment, she accepts his premise: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."
On the spot Jesus gets it! We get to see him change his mind!
Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish."
And her daughter was healed instantly.
Isn’t it marvelous to have a God who can change his mind?!
Let’s keep working on Her to do so. She may just change us too!
“For I have not called you ‘clients,’ but ‘friends.’”
This really is magnificent. I'm copping some stuff for my sermon tomorrow, hoping you don't mind too much.
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