Genesis 45:1-28, Lectionary 20 A, Aug. 17, 2014
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
Shots fired. A man killed. Protests raging. Police defending. Justice demanded.
This week, a lot has happened in Ferguson, Missouri. A teenage boy is dead, shot by a police officer. The entire town is full of protestors demanding answers. Yet even now many of their questions are not clearly answered. The protestors know that some injustice has happened. As they asked for the name of the police officer, what they wanted was reconciliation.
They wanted someone to admit that an injustice happened. They wanted someone to admit that racism is still a prevalent issue in their town. They wanted someone to grieve for this lost soul. The situation happening in Ferguson, MO is still unfolding as we speak. The media can only share a very small portion of the story of how Michael Brown died and how the community is reacting.
Just as the media deceives us as we search for the true story of what happened in Ferguson, the lectionary can be deceiving as well. We might think that our first lesson is a simple story of forgiveness and reconciliation, the exact story that we want to hear after such an uncomfortable week in the news.
Joseph in Egypt
Last week, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. This week, Joseph is reunited in Egypt with his brothers. They all weep with wonder that they might be one happy family again. The treacherous act that the brothers committed so many years ago seems to be swept under the rug. Joseph proudly proclaims that all of this is part of God’s plan.
We want this story to be so simply gratifying; we want this story to have a happy ending. The news can be so depressing, so we turn to the Bible so that God might uplift our spirit. But this lesson from the 45th chapter is not the first time that the brothers go to Egypt. In fact, it is the second trip to Egypt and the third time that the brothers come before Joseph. Each time, the brothers travel to Egypt to buy some grain. All they want is a simple, honest transaction. Yet, each time, Joseph manipulates them.
The first time, he threw them in jail for three days. Then he keeps Simeon in prison until they return with Benjamin. He gives them grain and puts their money in their sacs. Now they fear not only for Simeon’s life but also that they might be considered thieves.
Then, after they eat all that grain, they must return to Egypt. Jacob sends his sons, including Benjamin, with enough money to pay for what they have eaten and for a new batch of grain. When they came before Joseph, they feared that they would be forced into slavery. Instead, Joseph fed them a grand feast.
Once again, Joseph sends his brothers away with grain and their money. In Benjamin’s sac he he hid a silver cup. Then, on their way home, the brothers were overtaken by Egyptians and forced back on account of their apparent theft.
Once more, all of the brothers are standing before Joseph. Then Judah gives a grand speech about how their father Jacob would be a wreck and die if they came home without Benjamin.
That is when Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers. He waited until after the brothers traveled long distances, stressed over their apparent theft, and worried for their father’s wellbeing. Joseph does not resolve the conflict until he has made his brothers suffer too.
Even after Jacob is reunited with his favorite son, the story does not end happily ever after. For the rest of their lives, the brothers lived in fear of Joseph. They knew that Joseph had great power as the Pharaoh’s first officer and as their father’s favorite. After Jacob died and was buried, the brothers approached Joseph once more. This time, they fell on their knees begging forgiveness for their sinful action what seemed like a lifetime ago. One last time, Joseph claimed that all of this was part of God’s doing.
This may not be the story that we want to hear this week, yet it is an honest one. Joseph is understandably upset with his brothers. They let their petty sibling rivalry get them so upset that they sent their brother away. Now, Joseph is, in some small way, making them pay for what they have done. Joseph still loves his brothers, yet he has anger and outrage mixed in with that love.
In Joseph’s case, reconciliation was slowly given. He believed that God had a hand in what injustices he experienced, yet he still wanted to hold his brothers accountable for their actions. Then, after Judah’s speech, Joseph can’t control his emotions anymore. He may still feel anger for his brothers, yet his love conquers all.
In Joseph’s case, reconciliation looks like brothers crying on each other’s shoulders. It looks like a family reunited. It looks like God’s grace shared with siblings.
In Ferguson, Missouri’s case, reconciliation looks like a police force walking with protestors instead of blockading them (last Thursday). It looks like answers given. It looks like being heard.
In everything that I have read this week, I have been hearing one message loud and clear: People need to have their stories heard. The people of Ferguson, Missouri need to tell our nation what injustice occurred. They want the nation to know that racism is real, that racism still is powerful. It may look very different than it did fifty years ago, yet it still can tear communities apart.
In all of the blogs that I have read about Robin William’s passing, the most poignant message that I have heard is that we need to hear stories from those who are depressed. We do not know what Robin Williams was thinking when he took his life. We don’t know what many depressed people are thinking when they consider self-harm. How can we know unless we sit beside them and listen. We can’t wait for them to come to us.
In the book Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne, I am reading how he not only serves the poor, but he knows them. He does not just feed the homeless; he talks to them. Shane Claiborne has listened to their stories. He knows how the least among us are struggling.
There are people suffering all around us. There are those who have personal issues and those who suffer from systemic issues. We don’t often know the terrors that our neighbors face every day unless we ask. When we feed our neighbors, let us take the time to get to know them as well. Let us hear their stories. Let us find people who are not like us. Let us seek out those from different races, generations, and economic status. Let us walk with those who have a story to share. As we listen, we might just see God in the face of our neighbor. Amen.