This week’s Old Testament lection is the beginning of the Joseph cycle (Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28). We all know how it ends – Joseph is second in command in Egypt and saves the world (at least the world of the Israelites) by providing food in the midst of a famine. It’s a great ending. But like any good story, you have to travel down a winding narrative path to get to the conclusion. This week’s lesson leaves us with Joseph narrowly escaping death, barely out of a pit, and being sold into slavery. Not the best place to stop the reading.
There are plenty of other downturns in the story of Joseph. Along with being kidnapped and enslaved, he will be falsely accused, unjustly imprisoned, and forgotten before he is elevated to a position. And yet, in the end, God’s work for the good of Joseph, his family, and the world ultimately wins. This is a story about redemption – God taking evil and turning it to good.
(Let’s be clear: To redeem evil (bring good out of bad) never makes the evil good. Evil is still evil. Yet, God, in infinite wisdom, finds a way to take evil intent and bring about something grace-filled. Human trafficking, slavery, oppression, unjust verdicts are never good. Even if good arises out of these, we can never praise the acts and perpetrators of such immoral actions.)
If we can refrain from jumping to the happy ending where all bellies are full and every relationship is healed, our reading of this text reminds us about an important dynamic in the life of faith. We balance the reality of being in the pit or living in bondage with the hope that God will guide us into a fuller experience of life and joy. This week’s lesson from Genesis leaves us in the reality of crushed dreams and a future with little hope. Though this is where this episode ends, we know that this is not how the whole story ends.
The truth is that there are times in life when we find ourselves in a pit or in bondage. It is faithful to admit the truth of that experience. This is why we find so many psalms of lament. Sometimes life is just plain difficult and we feel overwhelmed. We don’t need to gloss over it or pretend it isn’t. In the midst of a painful pandemic, where physical distancing leads to social isolation when we long both to comfort and to be comforted, we are alongside Joseph. As we face uncertain futures due to economic factors, relational difficulties, or dreams that have evaporated, we are akin to Joseph.
Though these situations are real, they are not the end of the story. Just as God was at work in the life of Joseph, so God is still at work in the world and our lives. Struggles come, but God’s grace is shared in abundance. Like the Joseph story, the full beauty of our story is not discovered until the end. In some sense, this is like our reading of the crucifixion. Good Friday is real … but we know that Easter is coming.
While we do not know Joseph’s inner thoughts at this juncture of his life. For us, in the meantime between promise and fulfillment, between dream and fruition, we are called to live by faith – trusting in God’s redemptive, resurrecting, and renewing love.