This weekday homily was preached at Emery House.
Yesterday ’s O.T. reading introduced us to the saga of Joseph and his brothers in Egypt. In today’s reading we come to the crucial moment of that story when Joseph “got back at his brothers” for selling him into slavery in Egypt. In a touching few moments he revealed himself to his brothers and showed them how their meanness in selling him into slavery in Egypt was turned by the grace and mercy of God into a way of salvation for all of them.
Joseph’s way of making his brothers think that they were being accused of dishonesty and threatening to hold one of them in prison as a hostage may seem like a cruel way of getting back at his brothers for what they had done. But it was not done out of meanness. It was a way of showing his concern for his father and for his whole family. He was able to show them how they could see that what had happened back then in the wilderness of Dothan was God’s mercy and providence.
The first part of today’s reading from Genesis took the narration up at the time when the sacks of the brothers’ money were found in each one’s bag of grain, and Joseph’s silver cup was found in Benjamin’s bag of grain along with the money. In the earlier part of the story, the part that followed just after yesterday’s reading, the brothers discovered that their money had been returned to them at the end of their first journey to Egypt. Their father Jacob had advised them at that time to return the money the next time they went. This time, just before the story was resumed for today’s reading, Joseph had sent a messenger to report that his silver cup was missing. Upon examining the bags of grain the cup was found in Benjamin’s bag. This, of course caused great consternation among Joseph’s brothers. Today we heard the story resume just as the brothers had returned to Joseph’s house to try to explain to Joseph that they had no idea of how the money or the silver cup came to be in any of the bags of grain. Judah tried to proclaim their innocence. He further explained what a bad effect it would have on their father if Benjamin were to be held in prison in Egypt. Up to this point they had spoken to Joseph through an interpreter. They had not been able to recognize Joseph as their long lost brother. Over 30 years had elapsed since they had sold him to that band of travelling Midianite merchants who had taken him to Egypt. He had been a boy in his late teens the last time they had seen him. Now he was an adult, and he wore the clothing of a high official of the Egyptian court.
By this time Joseph could not keep up the pretense of suspicion any longer. As we heard when the lesson was read Joseph ordered his servants to send everyone else out of the house. When Joseph finally identified himself to his brothers he had been weeping, so his voice would have been distorted. His brothers did not understand him when he said, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” Or if they did understand him they were so tense with emotion that they could not speak. They probably did not expect to hear him speaking to them in their own language. I know, for example from my time of living in Japan, that some people get such a mindset that even if a non-Japanese were to speak in passably good Japanese, they would not realize that they were being spoken to in their own language.
After a short interval Joseph spoke to them again. Perhaps this time he spoke more clearly, and they paid closer attention when he said, “Come closer to me.” Then he repeated, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.” He went on to explain that he could now understand that the wicked thing that they had done had been turned into a good thing. God send him ahead of them to preserve their lives when the time of famine came upon all of that part of the world.
When we read similar stories of bad things happening that eventually lead to good results we can remember this story from ancient Israel and ancient Egypt. We can learn to look for the good in such incidents and give thanks to God for his providence and mercy.
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