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 Advent 4
23 December 2014
Sometimes it seems that our own family members are the hardest people to love. We often withhold love from those who ought to receive our love completely and unconditionally, because they are family to us. This happens because we have unrealistic expectations for those who are closest to us. Our ties of familial solidarity are so important to our self image that we consider any failure on the part of our family to be an insult to us or an attack on the family image. Far more often than I would like, I hear from people who are upset because the members of their family are refusing to reciprocate expressions of love and family unity. I hear of grandparents who have never seen their grandchildren because of a grudge held by either the parents or the grandchildren, or both. People describe never speaking with their brothers or sisters for years on end.
Such a breach in the bonds of love created by shared blood is a family disaster. It is a human disaster. Isaiah asks the rhetorical question, "Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?" (Is 49:15), because the answer is presumed to be "Of course not! No mother could forget her own child." And yet this very thing happens. Like you, I have heard news reports of parents being arrested for criminal negligence of children who were starving to death. Even unreasoning animals protect and defend their young, even to death (2Pt 2:12). Neglect or rejection of family ties is wholly unnatural. Shakespeare's King Lear chronicles the beastly treatment of a father by his daughters. Lear falls into madness by suffering this unnatural rending of family compassion and unity. We are wired by God our Creator to live in the ties of family unity and when we don't everything goes out of kilter. Family conflict is finally inhuman. Martin Luther uses the Latin word "humanitas" to refer to his kindly embrace of Joseph's conniving brothers.
Division within families is a spiritual disaster as well as a human disaster. It forgets who we are in relation to God in Christ. We are part of a family built by mercy, into which the Lord incorporated us by adoption. This adoption came at great cost, in which the Father sacrificed His natural Son for the adopted children. When confronted by the neglect of a human mother who acts inhumanly, in His response to the rhetorical question above, the Lord assures us that He would never neglect us: "Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you" (Is 49:15). That empowers us to live in harmony with our family, especially the household of God. It is easy to complain about our family members and express our disappointment with them, especially since they will always disappoint us. After all, like us, they are fallen humans! Our love for them must go beyond the ties of human blood, but must be by the ties of the blood of the Son of God; a blood that is far more valuable and powerful (Eph 2:13). There is a blood tie that is thicker than blood: the blood of God's Son (1Jn 1:7).
"Look at Joseph's exemplary humanity and the wonderful love he has for his brothers; for he kisses not only Benjamin, whom he was embracing with special benevolence and in whom he was also honoring his mother Rachel and his father, but also all the rest without distinction. And I wonder how he felt when it came to kissing Simeon and Levi and weeping over them? For they were leaders in the crime, as we heard above (Gn 37). Yet he embraces them just as he embraces the others.
"There certainly was a most gentle and humble spirit in such a great prince, who was so wise and saintly. Is it not wonderful that with tears and great pity he kisses his enemy and murderer, Simeon?
"But it was impossible for Joseph's heart not to be extraordinarily stirred when he embraced the brother who came from the same womb. For since he was the son of Rachel, he owed him more than he owed those who had been born to Leah. For God permits this privilege to the flesh, and deservedly indeed, that there is greater affection among those who have been born of the same parents than toward strangers. Thus Joseph loved Benjamin more than the others, and especially his enemies, who had plotted against his life. Still he devises and plans no evil against them but embraces them most pleasantly. The Holy Spirit wanted to celebrate all this in order to obscure and overwhelm the unnatural works of the monks. For because these things are done in accordance with the Word and the Holy Spirit, they are more sublime than all the works and virtues of the greatest heroes."
Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis,
Lord God, help us to love our families as special gifts from You. Grant us the grace of true humanity that we might love as You have first loved us. You loved the loveless to the point of shedding Your precious blood. As members of Your adopted family, help us to give ourselves to our families as our reasonable sacrifice for Your sake. Amen.
For Luke George, who is renewing his battle against Leukemia, that the Lord would grant him strength and confidence in a gracious God
For Juanita Duffala, who is suffering from pneumonia, that the Lord would grant her the breath of life
For Paul Lodholz who is recovering from a stroke, that he might be restored to complete health
For R. D. Clements, that the Lord Jesus would give wisdom to doctors, who are seeking to diagnose him
Art: Annunciation Schnorr Von Carolsfeld, Julius (1818)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014