Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, "Make everyone go out from me." So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. And Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?" But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.
So Joseph said to his brothers, "Come near to me, please." And they came near. And he said, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 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 yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And 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. 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 tarry. You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children's children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.' And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here." Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him. (ESV)
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Tuesday of Pentecost 24
25 November 2014
|Joseph, the son of Jacob, is an illustrious figure among the patriarchs. He reaches god-like status as the prime minister of the land of Egypt at a time when the authority of such rulers was absolute. He has authority of which our modern politicians can only dream. This included the power of life and death. Joseph disclosed himself to his brothers after the long separation that had divided them. And at that moment they were terrified; frightened for their lives. They were quite certain that their brother would see to their immediate, even if slow and excruciatingly painful, execution. Why did the brothers expect this terrible end when Joseph revealed himself to them?|
They had kidnapped him, faked his death, and sold him to slave traders, who, in turn, sold him into slavery in Egypt. He spent a long time in an Egyptian dungeon, was forgotten by those whom be blessed, and was finally rescued after years of suffering. All of this had been unnecessary, if only his brothers had treated him with the respect that a brother is due. So when, years later he revealed himself to them, they expected death, because they knew they were worthy of such retribution. But mirabile dictu, this did not happen. Joseph looked on his suffering as God's way of preparing him to save Egypt and his own family from famine (Gn 45).
I have asked myself if confronted with the same opportunity as the powerful Joseph, would I have broken down, weeping with brothers to whom I desired to be reconciled? After they treated me this way? Are you kidding? My instinct would be to punish these men as they deserved to be punished. This is the premise of the Rambo-style movie that comes out of Hollywood, isn't it? The hero can only take so much (think Popeye the Sailor: "I can't stands no more!"), and then he really gets angry about the injustice he sees around him. He whacks those who are worthy of annihilation and everyone in the theater cheers the hero. We are delighted to see those who deserve it get their comeuppance. When is the last time you saw the hero of the movie take a lifetime of suffering and then with tears and gentleness forgive those who had so brutally mistreated him? We would not have been that hero, to our shame.
Even that shame has been borne by the one whom Joseph prefigured, Christ our Lord. Our desire for revenge was propitiated in God's sight when Christ accepted into His person the wicked revenge of His opponents. Christ took away our shame by being shamed when the Roman troops mocked Him. He opened the store houses of abundance to our need, when He was deprived of sustenance unto life. He watered our parched lives when His side poured forth the cleansing water of baptism. Our joyless life has been filled with the wine of eternal joy decanted from His sacred veins. Our lack of brotherhood has been defeated by His embrace of brothers like us, who thought that rejecting Him would be good for us. Such was our felix culpa, our blessed fault. Like the brothers of Joseph, Jesus takes us back with weeping and gentleness. Some hero!
"Behold [Joseph was] the wonderful doctor and illustrious theologian and interpreter of the words and deeds of God (Gn 45:5)! 'You have betrayed,' he says, 'and sold me. This is absolutely certain. But now hear and learn God's plan, what you have done and what you have not done. You have destroyed and killed me. This cannot be denied. But this destruction and killing of yours, what was it in God's eyes? For God's plan is one thing. Your work is something else. God has used your plan and your evil will to give life, not only mine, which would be little enough, but universally. The Lord has sent me to give life, for life. You did not send me, but the Lord has sent me through you.'
"Surely this is speaking with new tongues. For what is the nature of this form of speech? It is certainly an extraordinary speech and a foreign kind of preaching: [for God] to send for the salvation and life not only of him who has been sent but also for the whole world. This language is not in the nature of things. For men would speak as follows: 'The angry brothers who are aflame with envy betray, sell, and slaughter their innocent brother.' But the Holy Spirit says: 'That selling is the salvation and life of Egypt and of the whole world.' This is a new and unheard-of way of speaking and an unhoped for and incredible reply. But it is a divine speech."
Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis, 45.5
Lord Jesus, send Your Spirit that we might have ears opened by and for your divine speech. You have made us Your brothers, though we have betrayed You. Help us to reject our own works so that we might hear what your plan for us is. Amen.
For siblings who are not reconciled, that they would be reconciled through Christ
For Maryann Murray, that the Lord would be with her as she goes through further medical testing and diagnosis
For President Ken Hennings of the Texas District, that he would be built up and encouraged in his service to the church
Art: Crucifixes Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014