I am not sure what kind of stories you like reading or hearing. I like crime fiction. The mystery of “who did it?” keeps me reading. I have just finished a bit of a marathon of reading the novels of an author who wrote his first story in 1935 and wrote his final story in 1975 – 76 novels and novellas in all. I read them all in chronological sequence – to get a feel for the development of the characters.
I think one of the things that I really liked about this series of stories was the author’s acute insight into human behaviour in extreme circumstances. He painted very realistic or plausible sketches of what people would do given certain circumstances.
I think this kind of thing is what has made the Joseph stories favourite reading among both Jews and Christians. In this story we have greed, jealousy and sibling rivalry, sex, politics and palace intrigue. It is not hard for any one of us to relate to the humanity in this story – even though it is describing events that happened 3500 to 4000 years ago.
We began this story last week as we looked at Joseph being sold off as a slave and taken to Egypt. To get to today’s story we have skipped over stories of things that happened back in home in Palestine as well as in Egypt.
Two stories involved scandals – the story of Judah and his daughter-in-law; and the story of Joseph and the wife of his owner Potiphar. While Joseph preserves his character in the incident with Potiphar’s wife it certainly seems to have been a set-back for him because he is consigned to gaol for a couple of years.
But things happen while he is in gaol and he is eventually recognised as someone who could help the Pharaoh who was troubled by dreams that none of his other advisers could interpret.
Of course we know what happened then. The Pharaoh was so impressed by both Joseph’s ability to make sense of the dream and the reports from others of his genius at getting things done successfully. So he was promoted. He became the Pharaoh’s right-hand man – the effective ruler of all Egypt.
The famine he predicted came along after the seven years of bountiful harvests, and it spread right across the eastern coastlands of the Mediterranean – up into Palestine. So it wasn’t long before the sons of Jacob came to Egypt to see if they could buy some of the grain that was in abundance in Egypt.
Of course they did not recognise Joseph, even when he started playing little games with them, getting them to bring his little brother with them when they came next time, and then planting his chalice among the goods they were taking back home.
So we arrive at the story we had read to us today. I must admit I always get caught up in the emotion of it when I hear it –
· Joseph’s emotion at finally revealing himself to his brothers; and
· His brothers’ emotions at realising who they have been dealing with all this time.
I wonder if Joseph ever contemplated getting them back for what they did to him. He might have been tempted, but it seems that the over-riding goal he had was to see his father again, and after revealing himself to them he makes plans for the whole family to have a safe and accessible place to live near him in Egypt.
It seems to me that there are two amazing ideas embedded in this story that reveal something wonderful for us all to live by.
The first relates to the bad stuff that happens in life. I don’t know about you, but over the years I have come across a few people – not many really – who have had really terrible things happen to them and their reaction to those circumstances, as far as their faith was concerned was that they rejected faith and God. If God countenanced those terrible things happening to them, they figured what was the point of God?
This could have happened to Joseph after what happened to him. He might have even regarded his eventual elevation as the result of his own genius or his just desserts after putting up with all the crap that went before it.
But the Joseph story leads us to a different conclusion. We discover that in spite of the most awful tragedies in which God seems to be utterly absent, God’s grace and care can travel with us through those circumstances in ways in which we ultimately find something good has been made out of it.
The Joseph story is a bit like a parable of what the grace of God can do in human life – the grace that can transform a curse into a blessing.
But the Joseph story is also a parable of God, of what God is like. Joseph’s actions towards his family after the things they had done to him are a faint echo of the One who has every reason to reject a wayward human family, but who instead loves them even to the point of personally participating in their suffering.
Now that has to be good news.