Joseph Forgives his Brothers

September 24, 2012 at 10:14 am Leave a comment

The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, III, STS
Narrative Lectionary Week 3 – Joseph Forgives His Brothers
St Stephen Lutheran Church, Pittsburgh PA
22 September 2012
 
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
 
The story of the Bible is a story of a God who calls and promises.
In Genesis 12, God called Abraham to go to the land which he would show him,
and promised him the land, a family that would outnumber the very stars of heaven,
and through him all the nations of the world would be blessed.
Abraham trusted that God would keep his promises.
And Abraham and Sarah did have a son, and that son Isaac had two twin sons, Jacob and Esau,
and those sons didn’t get along too well.
Jacob was the one who inherited his father Isaac’s blessing,
even though he had to do some pretty shady stuff
in order to get it.
(It was all his mom Rebekah’s idea.)
 
Ever notice that the heroes in the Bible really aren’t all that heroic?
In Sunday School we were taught to be like Jacob –
except for the lying to his dad part.
We were taught to be like King David –
except for the murder and adultery part.
We were taught to be wise like King Solomon –
except for the worshiping other gods part.
We were taught to be like the apostle Peter –
except for the denying our Lord when it came to crunch time part.
We were taught to be like St Paul –
except for the persecuting Christians part.
 
In fact, there is only one hero of the Bible.
That hero is God –
God who keeps calling his lost people
and promising them rescue from their enemies,
and in the end comes among them in Jesus Christ
to accomplish his every Word.
 
But if there are no heroes in the Bible,
Joseph comes close.
Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob,
the one whose multi-colored coat got the other boys so jealous,
and the one whose dreams of greatness just drove them over the edge.
 
Now all the very modern commentaries on this passage rightly point out
that Jacob’s family was a dysfunctional family.
Jacob loved Joseph’s mother Rachel much more than his other wife Leah
or either of their handmaids whom he also took as sexual partners.
(Ever notice how not only are there no heroes in the Bible,
there’s more sex than you’d expect there to be?)
Anyhow, the first son born to Rachel was loved more than the other mother’s sons,
and lavished with all sorts of attention,
and so of course it was perfectly natural that the other boys
would became so enraged with jealousy
that they would plan to get rid of him completely.
 
Here’s where the commentaries begin to break down.
So what?
It doesn’t matter how much favoritism Jacob showed to Joseph.
It doesn’t justify first thinking of murder and then selling Joseph into slavery,
which amounts to about the same thing,
since who knows what’s going to happen to Joseph once he’s gone.
In fact, it doesn’t even matter that Reuben plots to save him
because he fears his father’s wrath more than he hates Joseph.
 
What matters is that the God-called response to injustice is not hatred.
It is not ‘natural’ for jealousy to result in blind rage and murder.
Jealousy itself is not ‘natural.’
It is was not ‘natural’ for Adam and Eve to be jealous of God.
That is part of the unnatural nature of our sin.
The fact that we live against our nature, that we live in sin,
is the only reason we say, ‘Oh, yeah, I can see how a couple of dreams
justify throwing your younger brother into a pit.’
 
I don’t care how dysfunctional Jacob was as a parent.
I’m not blaming Jacob for the actions of the sons,
which were treacherous and murderous and full of hatred.
When you are wronged, as you most certainly will be in this life,
you have no God-given right to hate the person who wronged you.
That is a deeper slavery than any that the brothers had planned for Joseph.
 
We human beings are called by God to a life of bearing each other’s burdens.
You cannot bear the burden of someone else while you hate them.
The call to forgiveness is the call to love – to love the one whom ordinarily you would hate –
because God’s call and promise is community.
God intends for human community to be restored through Jesus Christ,
and those who live in Jesus Christ are called to be restorers of community
by bearing the burdens of those who wrong them.
 
Ten sons of Jacob break the community of Abraham’s family in their hatred.
The community of the family whom God had chosen to bring light to the world
is now divided, as so many families and communities are
because of jealousy, because of hatred, because of the desire to be first.
The reading for tomorrow morning will talk of our unnatural desire to be first in everything –
most important, most respected, most well-known,
and Jesus will speak of greatness as being last and servant of all.
It doesn’t happen here.
 
Except in one person.
The person who the story leaves thrown into the pit, begging for mercy,
and then is sold into slavery.
Joseph rises, and falls, and rises again and falls again,
and ends up number two-man in the kingdom of Egypt,
guiding them through a famine with Solomon-like wisdom.
When his brothers come, begging for bread,
Joseph gives it to them, even before he knows that his father lives.
But when his father dies,
the consciences of the ten brothers afflict them.
Or is it their conscience?
Is it not fear that Joseph only spared them
because he loved his father more than he loved them?
Now that Jacob is no more,
what is to stop him from showing no mercy,
as they showed no mercy to him?
 
The call and promise of God is to community –
community with God and with others in God.
And so when Joseph’s brothers come and ask, beyond hope, for his mercy,
Joseph himself restores the community that has been broken.
The debtors, the brothers, cannot restore it,
because no action could ever undo what they had done to Joseph.
It is Joseph himself, the one who was wronged, that must restore the community,
and restore it he can, and restore it he does,
because he trusts that the goodness of God is greater than any evil done to him
and that the God who made promises to Abraham
can bring even good out of evil.
 
Do the brothers have a part to play?
Absolutely!
In recognizing and confessing the wrong they have done
and receiving the forgiveness offered.
That is our role as well,
for we too have been jealous that we must have a Lord,
one greater than us who will rule over us.
And we have cast him into the pit, sentenced him to death,
but beyond our greatest fear – and our greatest hope –
he is risen and lives with his Father in heaven.
What can we do but recognize what we do,
when we hate those of whom we are jealous,
when we return evil for evil
and do not live in the community God offers?
What else can we do but turn to God-in-Christ,
our brother, our reconciler,
and ask for mercy, for forgiveness?
What else can we do but live in the forgiveness which is offered,
the forgiveness which comes from God’s own hand?
 
There is one hero in the Bible,
and that is God,
the God who enfleshes himself in Jesus Christ.
But in Joseph, the Old Testament
gives us perhaps the clearest type, or pattern,
of the one who was to come
to fulfill all the promises made to Abraham.
In Joseph, who was dead and was raised to life,
and who himself wiped away the wrongs done by his brothers,
we see an image of the one who wipes away our wrongs.
 
Let us then go forward in imitation of the One, who like Joseph of old,
pleaded for mercy for his despisers
and despised no one.
Let us live in Christ’s love.
It is a love which ‘keeps no record of wrongs,’
as the words of 1st Corinthians, read to so many couples
beginning their marriages, reminds us.
Let us be the ones to offer forgiveness to those who have wronged us.
When we ourselves are in the wrong, let us ask for forgiveness,
from God and from others.
Let us not shrink from examining our own hearts.
And when there are people who refuse to live in relationship,
who will not accept forgiveness because they will not admit their part,
when we are caught in desperate circumstances
and cannot see the possibility of restoration,
let us pray to the God who can bring good from evil
and for whom all things are possible.
 
But most of all let us trust in him who will accomplish all things through us
by the power of his Holy Spirit –
who wipes away our wrongdoing
and welcomes us back into full community with him:
Jesus Christ, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.
 
Amen
 
The peace of God, that passes all understanding,
keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.
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