8/16: Genesis 45:1-15 and Psalm 133 • Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 and Psalm 67 • Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32 • Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28
Between last week's Genesis 37 reading and this week's Genesis 45, there are several great Bible stories – worthy of their place both in classical literature and in Sunday School classes everywhere. Joseph, Jacob's favorite son, sold by his siblings, becomes a slave in Egypt. He was successful (as these things go!) until one day, refusing to be seduced by his master's daughter, he finds himself falsely accused and thrown into prison. In jail, he becomes famous for dream interpretation. One day he is summoned to interpret the Pharaoh's bad dreams. Predicting a famine ahead, and giving sage advice to the Pharaoh, he finds himself released from prison, suddenly chief of staff for a powerful ruler.
Meanwhile, back in Canaan, Joseph's father Jacob sends all his brothers except Benjamin to Egypt, searching for food as the famine has hit their family hard. When they arrive, Joseph recognizes his brothers, who do not, of course, connect this powerful man with the young Joseph they had known. He requires them to return home and bring back Benjamin: Joseph's only full brother, the only brother also born by Rachel, Jacob's favorite wife. When they bring Benjamin back, the story takes some tricky turns, eventually with Joseph saying that they can all leave, except for Benjamin. At this point, another brother, Judah, takes a stand (see Genesis 43:33-34). Judah refuses to return to Jacob without Benjamin. He talks about his fear of seeing how his father would suffer if Benjamin did not return home, and offers himself as a slave instead. Next, Joseph – in the opening verse of chapter 45 – sends everyone away so he can have a good cry. Then he calls them all back in, reveals who he is, and arranges for the family to settle in Egypt where they can survive the famine.
How Jacob's family manages itself through the seven-year famine is a tale with many implications for our pandemic times. The family's relationship processes have changed from the time when Joseph was thrown in a pit by his big brothers. The years of servitude had brought remarkable changes in Joseph himself. Joseph is no longer a whiner, no longer a tattler, but now a leader exercising responsibility to others. The family itself seems to be practicing a little more open communication among its members, less bound by secrets. The family is also more goal-focused, recognizing the need to find a way to provide for all its members during the long famine. And Judah has grown up, making the consideration of the entire family system a part of his decision-making process.
Judah had many years to reflect on his own contributions to Jacob's sadness at the loss of Joseph, and at Joseph's plight as well. In his thoughts, Judah had started connecting his capacity for reason with his emotions, providing energy for some difficult choices. He defines himself as a person wanting to take responsibility for his part of the problem. In offering to become a slave himself, he stepped up to the challenge of the situation in courageous words and choices of his own.
Words coming out of a person's mouth – or in text messages or tweets – can either define or defile the person doing the talking. Sometimes, a person knows it instantly – oh, I wish I wouldn't have said that! Somehow, as Jesus points out (Matthew 15:11), one's words taint oneself, damaging the inner person. The third chapter of James provides a more thorough treatment of the human challenge of taming the tongue. Here, hope comes from an unexpected place: neurological research. Brain plasticity exists; even well-worn neural pathways can be altered, diverted, or worked around until alternate paths begin. When a person can stop the diatribe of blaming or taunting or criticizing, instead engaging in emotional self-regulation, then the person is healing herself. Ultimately, it's less what a person says, and more what she does, (or, in Judah's case, what he was willing to do) that defines each of us.
Morning: How many of my family members am I in touch with on family challenges, covid or otherwise?
Evening: When were my words today self-defining?
Psalm 133:1 How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!