Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
9 August 2020
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For our first reading today we have the OT passage about young Joseph. You know, the precocious little guy with the fancy jacket and a fawning father. And the dreams! What an attitude this kid had.
In the Bible the Joseph story stretches across 14 chapters of Genesis: 37 to 50. It comprises about one-third of Genesis and is clearly a major topic of interest for the storyteller.
Our lectionary gives us two small bites of that very large cherry. Today we have the murderous scene where his older brothers conspire to get rid of the dreamer. Next Sunday we have the scene from Genesis 45 when Joseph, now the de facto ruler of Egypt (as if), reveals his identity to the starving men who once plotted to murder him.
We can perhaps understand why the lectionary committee chose those two scenes, but where is spiritual wisdom to be found in such texts?
The lectionary snippets do not do justice to the biblical text.
The selections are usually short and convent, and they do not slow us down too much, but our hearts need more than ‘drive-through’ spirituality .
Worse still, as read in church, they affirm and validate violence and exploitation. By the time we get to the happy ending in Genesis 45, Joseph has already been messing with his brothers’ heads by a series of tricks worthy of both his father and his younger self. It seems he never did gain wisdom.
Sometimes the Scriptures need to be read in lengthy extracts and not consumed as the spiritual fast food that is served up in the lectionary.
Do yourself a favour and read all 14 chapters of the Joseph story this week. Better still, find someone to read the whole story out aloud so you can hear it being performed and not simply consume the letters on the page.
As you do that, ask what the Spirit is saying to the church—and to me—through a text such as this?
The answers will differ, but let me suggest some that you might come up with.
You may notice—and I think this what the biblical narrator probably wants us to sense—that there is a bigger divine plan beyond our own personal agenda for life, and wisdom consists of ensuring that our lives fit with that plan. I am certain that is what the editor of Genesis had in mind, and it was certainly what the writer of today’s Psalm (Psalm 105:12–22) had in mind.
We might look at that story with all its bad bits, and sad bits and loving bits and notice that God is all to weave all the bits of our lives together so that everything is OK in the end. That’s a Romans 8 kind of interpretation: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
As some people read this story and reflect on it, they will notice how things that could have been disastrous actually end up turning out for good. Indeed, at the end of the story, Joseph says to his brothers: “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 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. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” (Genesis 50:19–21)
Depending on what sort of family you come from, you might take some encouragement from the knowledge that dysfunctional families are actually quite common, quite normal, and even happen in he Bible. This is certainly one dysfunctional family.
You might notice that is also a story about reconciliation of broken relationships. In the end, finally, Joseph and his brothers are indeed reconciled. Maybe that gives us hope when we are living and working with broken relationships.
As you read the whole narrative, you might realise that this is a story not dissimilar to the blowing up of the port in Beirut on Tuesday. This is a story in which the people who live in Palestine, Canaan, have lost their food supply and gone down to Egypt because they have heard there is food in Egypt.These are refugees. These are people who have been hit by a natural disaster and they are going to their neighbours for help. We might wonder whether Australians have an obligation to help our neighbours as they go through tough times; whether that is CVID-19 or wider issues of violence and poverty.
And certainly we would notice, as we read the whole 14 chapters, and perhaps reflected on the experience with a friend, that Scripture is an amazing gift to us and an incredible spiritual asset.
We don’t get that from the fast food drive-through lectionary experience that we typically get in a Sunday morning service.
The meanings that we see in the Scriptures will, of course, be contextual. It always is and it always must be. The meaning depends on who is reading the story, what is happening in their lives at the time and with whom they are reading the story; either actually with them or who they are taking with them in their heart as they read the sacred text.
So I invite you to get into the story of Joseph this week. Not because it is the best story ever told, and not because it actually happened historically, but because it makes up a third of the book of Genesis. It is a really important part of what the Bible has to tell us about wisdom for life, and it is an invitation from God—and from those before us—to think deeply about where we might see God at work in our everyday relationships.