by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
The readings for Sunday, September 23, 2012:
Genesis 37:3-8, 26-34; 50:15-21
Optional Text: Luke 6:35
This week's narrative lectionary gives us the story of Joseph: the beloved youngest son, one of those Biblical tales of sibling rivalry that make us shake our heads in wonder.
Researchers tell us that sibling violence is the most common kind of domestic violence. The news is full of tales of children abused by their elders, but for all sorts of reasons, it's much more common for siblings to attack each other.
Even if we get along well with our siblings, we've likely been on either side of this kind of paralyzing jealousy that we see in the early story of Joseph. Perhaps it's that coworker who always seems to get the glory, while everyone else wonders what the boss sees in that person. Maybe we're the ones with visions and solutions, and we wonder why it's so hard to be taken seriously.
We see Joseph sold into slavery and taken far away from home. In many ways, this story seems modern. We may naively think that we're past the time of slavery, but experts tell us that more people live in slavery today than ever before; think of migrant workers and sex trade workers and those who labor in the third world so that those of us in the first world have cheap goods to buy.
These lives are full of desperation, and often an early death, and Joseph's brothers sell him. It's that desire for wealth that keeps his brothers from killing him.
In the story of Joseph, as in so many Biblical stories, we see that God can bring salvation out of the most horrific circumstances. Because Joseph goes to Egypt, his family later has a place of refuge. Joseph's ability to interpret dreams serves him well, and he saves not only his family, but entire populations.
We should also keep in mind that Joseph's journey isn't all happiness. He's got the hard labor of a slave's life. He's imprisoned by various people throughout his life. But he perseveres, and so, he is in a place where God can use him for the greatest good.
It's still a valuable lesson today when so many of us might feel our futures ever more constrained with each passing day. We may feel ourselves far away from anything that feels like home. This story assures us that God can take the most ugly situations and wring the good out of it.
We may find ourselves in all kinds of slavery: perhaps addiction, perhaps debt, perhaps bad relationships, there are so many things that enslave us. Again and again, God intervenes and brings salvation.
We also see that forgiveness is often possible where we might have thought it couldn't happen. Joseph's brothers ask to be forgiven, and Joseph, having travelled through all sorts of humanizing experiences, offers them the peace that comes with forgiveness and reconciliation.
We, too, can have that peace of reconciliation, that welcome homecoming, that salvation that comes out of the most unlikely circumstances. Our Bible stories give us that promise again and again.