Joseph Ahead of his Time

Worship Bulletin: Bulletin-TL 02-24-2019 YC E7; Special Hymn: Healer of our every Hurt*

Scriptures: Genesis 45:3-11, 15Luke 6:27-38

*Author’s note: The melody was written by Joseph Parry in 1876 and adopted by Charles Wesley for “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.” ABERYSTWYTH;  The Glory to God Hymnal has four verses of Charles Wesley’ text: #440. I have written three new verses to go with the melody.  

Background:  In my congregation, I have a member on hospice who has been one of the bright pillars of the community for many years.  This week I heard about a youth from my previous congregation who took his own life, and the eldest member of my Doctorate of Ministry cohort passed away, and other losses (pending and recent) within my cohort inform the text.  In the face of so much weight this week, the only response I could think of was to pray with song. 

Let us pray:

Holy God, you have given us scriptures to teach and transform us. Open our ears and eyes that we may hear and see what you would have us do and be. Amen.

I had to reflect on why the Revised Common Lectionary committee placed these two scriptures – the first about Joseph, the second about Jesus – together today. I came to the conclusion that Joseph was a prefiguring of Jesus; and Jesus was a fulfillment of an ancient archetype of salvation expressed in the Joseph cycles found in Genesis.

That would make sense, wouldn’t it? Joseph is a witless victim to his brothers’ plans at an underhanded fratricide followed by a merciful intervention by older brother Reuben, who suggest throwing him into a pit instead. He leaves, then a subsequent suggestion of older brother Judah to sell him to the Ishmaelites is agreed upon favorably. A trader group of Midianites draws him up out of the pit and takes him to Egypt, selling him to Potiphar the captain of Pharoh’s gurad. In Egypt he later becomes the instrument of salvation of the entire tribe of Jacob’s descendants, the interrelated precursor people of the nation-state of Israel.

How in the world did Joseph maintain his faith in God and come to love his deceiving, unloving, reckless brothers? We are told he came to understand his place as God’s deliverance for his abusive family. Is that any different than the messiahship of Jesus in allowing himself to be killed for these same people that so wished to scapegoat him for all the ills of a Roman Empire deterioration? Granted, it was a localized one in Palestine, but I suspect the same was happening in other fringes of the Empire, too. For example, what came to be called the British Isles, and the parts of the Empire that bordered on the Far East as well as its southern boundary in Africa.

But I digress. Joseph, son of Jacob/Israel of Canaan, is an example of purity and service, forgiveness and restoration, in a sense, a pre-cursor Jesus to those of ancient times. Joseph, “made great” in Egypt, is lifted up as a hero through the blessings left to his descendants by Moses some generations later, “May the Lord bless his land with the precious dew from heaven above and with the deep waters that lie below; with the best the sun brings forth and the finest the moon can yield; with the choicest gifts of the ancient mountains and the fruitfulness of the everlasting hills; with the best gifts of the earth and its fullness and the favor of him who dwelt in the burning bush. Let all these rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the prince among his brothers.” (Deut. 33:13-16)

In a time of desperate physical need, during the great drought that brought Canaan to her knees and sent her peoples journeying far away to Egypt for aid, Joseph is lifted up as the liberator of his people, even as he simultaneously paves the way for vastly expanding his Egyptian master’s enrichment and Egypt’s national well-being.

But now let us consider Jesus. Isn’t what Joseph did for Egypt and his own small tribe of Hebrew people in his time the kind of life we long to see fulfilled for us? Don’t we come to Jesus longing for an easy way? For a bit of prosperity gospel, even? Yet Jesus comes to us in a manner very unlike that which Joseph, his ancient precursor, came to save his family tribe.

Jesus comes to save, yes, but very differently. Jesus did not enter into Pharaoh’s favor and run the Roman Empire. Jesus came to a people subjugated already under Roman rule – the so called Pax Romana. Jesus came to a people struggling to make ends meet, and rose up from within. Jesus proclaimed a heavenly kingdom, not an earthly one. Jesus came to offer a better way to live within the systemic oppression experienced by the Israelite people – a people who between the time of Joseph and Jesus rose and fell as a mighty independent nation. A people who were accustomed to a history of greatness and freedom, with stories and architecture to prove their ancient greatness, even a Temple that loomed over all of Jerusalem despite its Roman occupation.

A people who longed for the yoke of oppression to be cast off and their freedom renewed. Herein then, we look to the sixth sign of John’s gospel to add further insight to the geopolitical reality within which Jesus worked. The healing of the man born blind is an allegory to the teaching of Jesus concerning God’s kingdom. Jesus did not come to be the new Israeli Cesar. He came to show a blind people the way to new life. He came to offer spiritual reality lived out among antagonistic political overlord-ship. Perhaps we can learn from him in this.

Jesus came to proclaim release to the captives, yes. Jesus came to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, yes. Jesus came to speak of freedom and a heart turned toward God, but in an utterly nonpolitical reality. For kingdoms will fall and leaders will return to the dust from which they came, but the Word of the Lord lives forever. As we prepare to approach Ash Wednesday next week and remember that we are dust and to dust we too will one day return, our spirits still long for the freedom that will come when one day we lay our bodies to rest at last. In that day, we will come into the kingdom that we live in only partially now but will know fully in that day. Meanwhile, how do we live in this kingdom that is here but not yet fully known? Listen to Jesus, live with eyes wide open, turn our hands to do justice and good, and pray for those who persecute us. For God so loved the world – all of it – and we re the hands and feet of Jesus now.

May all glory by unto the One who lived, died, and rose agin for us; even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.


Questions for Reflection

  1. How has God sent you to be a preserver of what is good and healthy?
  2. How is your family living up to the wisdom that Joseph showed in caring for the people of Egypt and, eventually, even his own kin?
  3. When have you extended and received mercy and forgiveness?
  4. Which part of the Sermon on the Plain challenges you the most? Why?
  5. For whom are you called to pray at this time and place? Practice praying for those people and places in which you find it difficult to extend mercy.
  6. Are there stories of rift and reconciliation in your church? Your community? Your family? What happened to cause the schism? Did healing occur? When healing does occur, how do you respond?
  7. Notice when you find yourself rushing to judgment. What are you thinking and why?

Household Prayer: Morning

In the morning when I rise, O God, you are with me strong and sure, turning my dreams into insights and teaching me the delights of your law. You preserve my life day after day, and in return, I rejoice at the new dawn. Guard my waiting this day, O Lord, guide my feet and my hands, give me stillness and patience so that I may offer delight to those I meet, reaping joy in return; in Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

Lord, throughout this day you have rescued us from harm and despair, giving us instead the joy of accomplishment and fellowship with our family and friends. Protect us through the night Holy One, that in our dreams we will not be shaken but will see you face to face and wake renewed. We take refuge in you; in Jesus’ name. Amen.


About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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