Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
I would like to share some interesting insights about the Joseph Cycles, the series of stories featuring Jacob’s eleventh son Josepgh; one of the original heads of the 12 tribes of Israel. The final form of these stories appeared during the Babylonian Exile, during a time of captivity far from their own land. This final representative collection of writings comes from what scholars call the Priestly tradition, one of the four main sources identified in the first books of the Hebrew Bible.
Why did they write these amazing and important stories down in the midst of exile? Was it that they saw connections and parallels from these ancient, probably oral tradition stories to their current struggles under an alien race living in a foreign land? Was it because the priestly caste was seeing complete assimilation and break down of Israelite identity and needed something to hold themselves together? Or was it more academic, to remember and record all their rich history before it could disappear in the mists of time? Or, in the face of the fall of their empire, are the Israelite people doubting God even exists for them after all? One scholar observed,
“Israel was fraught with questions. Some of the exiled people were discouraged. What was God’s purpose? Did God plan to deliver them from exile? Did God have the power to do so? Other people were accommodating to Babylonian culture, to the extent that they were in danger of compromising their Israelite identity and mission. The Priestly writers tell the saga of Joseph as a way of both reassuring the discouraged exiles that God would act in their behalf, and urging the hyper-adapting exiles not to sell out to Babylonian culture.”
What was it that the Priestly writers wanted Israel to know? Did they hope to teach something? And so they write: Remember Joseph? His brothers sold him into slavery, but he came out on top and extended salvation to his family in due time.
“The exiles need neither yield to despondency nor consider Babylon as their lasting home, because their God is at work in their circumstance to sustain them and to bring them home in ways that are no more obvious than Joseph rising to power in Pharaoh’s court.”
I wonder, could we, in our own contemporary time and place, further extrapolate a theological parallel? For example, are we in danger of losing our identity and mission as a denomination? A congregation? A religion? These questions don’t yet haunt me at night, but I might just be on the cusp of something. Perhaps I am beginning to understand that being discouraged in the face of challenges, even living as refugees in exile, is a temporary state. Whatever trials and tribulations we might be going through or facing right now in our lives either personally or denominationally might just be minor in the bigger picture of God’s salvific work continually moving ahead through time.
Joseph’s deep desire for reunion and the reconciliation between he and his brothers might just be as dramatic a statement as can be made that God is for us and not against us, that God made us for community, and not to be alone in the world. “We cannot be fully blessed—and our groups cannot be fully blessed—until we are together in mutually supportive community. The figure of Joseph is a model: we can take the lead in reconciliation, as Joseph does in our text,” writes Ronald J. Allen.
I would like to suggest that Jesus and the Canaanite woman in today’s gospel lesson are also boldly treading new ground of reconciliation. For hundreds of years, embedded in Israelite thinking was the perspective that “we are the chosen ones, all others are outsiders-Gentiles.” There is a sociological term that describes such thinking: ethnocentrism. We are no exceptions in falling pray to it. It is as deep as us/them, east/west, Catholic/protestant, white/black, latino/american, left/right, gay/straight, Christian/Islam; you name it, we all think it at some point in time in our development as human – and as spiritual – beings. But God – Spirit is bigger than that! Much bigger. Even Jesus, Emmanuel, fully God with us, exhibited this same human tendency in today’s text. Yet it didn’t stop the Canaanite woman from continuing to press her case, did it? No indeed! The text indicates Jesus accepts missional correction and her daughter is miraculously healed.
I wonder if that interchange changed Jesus significantly for the rest of his earthly ministry. If so, would it be fair to say God is able to change and grow? Even as God teaches us, does the human condition teach God how to be more compassionate, more human? Wow!
Perhaps God is indeed bigger than we think, always working towards the salvation of all that God has made, even in the midst of temporary or discouraging setbacks. For you and I, perhaps the human condition is enough for us to reach out to our fellow human beings in compassion, welcoming all in the name of Christ. Maybe it is even deeper than that. Maybe, in the great cosmic workings of time, we will also learn how to reach out to creation itself in compassion, choosing what is good and right and honorable over what is profitable, grasping, and self-interested. If God is bigger, than we, who are made in the image of God, mightn’t we have infinitely more to offer than we think possible?
May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us; even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
Questions for Reflection
Why do you think Jesus resisted the Canaanite woman’s request? How does this fit with your idea of Jesus’ mercy and love? What changed his mind? How does this influence your faith in God?
Household Prayer: Morning
Merciful God this day is full of your possibilities for healing and reconciliation, for new beginnings and restored relationships. Unite my heart with your will so that your abundant anointing will flow through me. Send me now with your promised blessings to preserve the lives of those in need. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
God of the night watches: guard me from torment I pray. Release me from distress. Call me close to you and kiss me with your favor that I may rest secure in you. Amen.
 Allen, Ronald J. Feasting on the Word—Year A David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, Kentucky; All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0