This is my third reflection on the story of Jacob and his son by Rachael, Joseph. At last we come to a story of deep reconciliation and repair. And it is a story for a time such as this one we find ourselves in. (Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost. Genesis 45:1-15, Psalm 133, Romans 11:1-2, 29-32, and Matthew 15:10-28.)
Only the hard hearted would not feel moved by the story of Joseph weeping and falling upon the neck of his estranged brothers. Many of us may long for such a moment of reconciliation in our own families and communities. But it did not just happen. This week I indulge in a mainly psychological exegesis of the Joseph story.
Remember that this moment is the outworking of generations of struggle, desire, suffering, hard work and faithfulness. Joseph is the fruit of his father Jacob and mother Rachael and therefore their stories of love, betrayal, struggle, barrenness and blessing is part of Joseph’s heritage. And it takes a long time in prison and working for others in an alien land for Joseph to grow in wisdom and compassion and power sufficiently to be able to face his betrayers and to bring healing and hope to his family and adopted people. Of all the things we could explore I will be disciplined enough to only explore three!
Firstly this story is in many ways the fruit of the path of wisdom. In our first encounter with Joseph we discover he is blessed with his father’s favour and with dreams from God that point to his favour and power to lead. But in his early years Joseph is unwise and maybe even egotistical in his use of that power. This is part of why he is sold into slavery as he so antagonises his brothers with his dreams of his own power! And it is in his time as slave, then prisoner and lastly as valued servant that Joseph learns how to use his powers in a way that is not about his ego or immediate benefit but for others. Joseph may or may not have continued to have dreams about himself but he uses his powers of discernment for the benefit of others, indeed for the benefit of the whole region of Egypt and its neighbours including his family. His powers of discernment include an ability to be strategic and make sure that his needs are met in a way that is also good for his neighbours but he is not missed out of the blessings. His wisdom is earthly and practical, is concerned with security and justice, as well as from the inner world of dreams.
Secondly this is a story of forgiveness and reconciliation and it is a process and not a single event. It is interesting and accurate I think that Joseph does not disclose his identity and fall upon his brothers at their first meeting but he orchestrates things so that his younger brother is brought with them on their next trip and his older brothers have had time to start processing their past. The truth of his identity and the consequences of his betrayal and suffering and his life since is revealed slowly and only when the time is right. Joseph seems to understand that forgiveness cannot be forced or hurried. Sometimes because of the needs of the victim or sometimes because of the needs of the perpetrators. And as in this case the perpetrators were themselves perpetuators of harm done to them over generations. For such matters forgiveness and true reconciliation is a long process.
Part of what brings healing to the situation is that Joseph has become so wise and faithful that he is convinced that his suffering has been part of the way in which God brought blessings to him and enabled Joseph to bring blessings to others. Some people would say that God gives us the suffering as part of a master-plan but I cannot quite go there, rather I believe that God being God can use and re-purpose any suffering for a greater good if we are open to experiencing God in whatever circumstance we find ourselves. Without this humility and faithful openness Joseph may not have been able to be so ready to forgive and be so compassionate.
Thirdly, in this Joseph story and the gospel story this week of Jesus and the woman from Canaanite, I believe that we are being encouraged to see that our wisdom and power, our blessedness is for the sake of others – including others we don’t easily feel a concern for. I suspect that for Joseph he only became concerned for the Egyptians when it became apparent that his fate was tied up with theirs but as he grew in wisdom and power he certainly exercised his power and influence in a way that benefited others - all of the peoples of that entire region. (Oh to have world leaders like that now!)
And in the gospel story this week (Matthew 15:10-28) we hear that Jesus took some persuading to respond to the request of the Canaanite woman. Now this may have been either because he perceived that she needed to desire healing more desperately and/or in his humanity it took him a while to engage in his mission that was for those beyond the lost sheep of Israel. Whatever his reasons and process Jesus does come to minister to those beyond his fold. And we absolutely know that those who followed him very quickly shared their faith and gifts beyond the house of Israel and went far and wide to share the gift given them.
From all of this I speculate that the gift of our faith, the growth in our wisdom, all that we have been blessed with is so that God’s joy may be complete in us. And in others! Like Joseph all that we have been through and grown through is for a time such as this. We need not be dismayed if it is hard. We need not be overwhelmed for more than a day or two. We need not feel yourself abandoned in the pit. This too can be transformed by our God who works in the dark and the light, who is to found in pleasant places and the pit, who will restore us to blessing, and who will bless others through us.
Even so, come Eternal One, and equip us with your grace for a time such as this.