8/9: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 and Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b • 1 Kings 19:9-18 and Psalm 85:8-13 • Romans 10:5-15 • Matthew 14:22-33
This week's Genesis reading finds Jacob back in Canaan, an older man, relying on his twelve sons to shepherd his flocks. His favorite wife, Rachel, has died and his favorite son – Rachel's firstborn, Joseph, 11th of the 12 brothers from his four wives – is 17 years old. He's a shepherd's helper, assigned to assist his older brothers, who probably made life hard for him when they had the chance. He has a protected status, though, less helper and more reporter, going back and forth between the fields and his father. His favored child status has been highlighted by a beautiful, comfortable coat which Jacob has had made for him and him alone, making his brothers all the more resentful. As today's scripture opens, Joseph is a tattletale, bringing back a 'bad report' to Jacob.
Next – and found in verses 5-11, inexplicably left out of today's scripture passage – Joseph has two dreams about his brothers bowing down to him. Well, given his place on the young end of the sibling pecking order, how wouldn't he dream about that. But Joseph, unable to resist the chance to lord it over his brothers, makes the mistake of telling them about these dreams: stories not greeted with a chuckle from the group. At their next opportunity – with all of the older brothers together, herding sheep, far from home – they see Joseph in his fabulous coat on the horizon, sent by their father to check on them. They look at each other and say, here comes that dreamer!
They then begin to plot their revenge, talking about killing him. The oldest brother, Reuben, son of Leah, diverts them to a more harmless prank, which they agree to, first taking Joseph's fancy coat and then throwing him into a pit. Reuben, planning to come back later and rescue him, somehow seems to be gone from the next scene when a caravan of traders passes nearby. Judah, the 4th child of Leah, convinces the younger brothers to sell Joseph as a slave to the traders rather than kill him; the traders take Joseph to Egypt. On his return, Reuben is devastated by the news. The brothers work out a plan to deceive their father into thinking Joseph had been killed by a wild beast, dipping the coat into the blood of a goat. They send a report to Jacob along with the coat, saying that it was all they had found of their brother.
Multigenerational patterns are everywhere in this story. Jacob was once the son who wished to be his father's favorite, and who deceived his dad. Jacob's protection of Joseph went terribly wrong, as did Abraham's protection of Isaac. Conflict between siblings was the rule, between Ishmael and Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Leah and Rachel. Sibling position was also at play.
In today's story, Reuben, the oldest, tries to protect Joseph. The lives of firstborns can get mired up in an astonishingly unrealistic sense of responsibility for others, coupled with an abdication of responsibility for self. They do in some ways provide a useful function in a family, while enjoying the reliance of others on them. However, as this example illustrates, when responsibility gets located in one person rather than spread over the group, immaturity for the family unit results.
Beyond Reuben, the rest of the brothers are stuck, too: unable to conceptualize that each of them might have a solid, separate relationship with their father, who seems limited in his capacity to lead in this matter. Joseph, an almost-youngest, is accustomed to his father's protection. He's also used to his brothers doing most of the work, making him both less capable and more dependent on them. He responds immaturely in this story – from telling on his brothers to broadcasting his dreams – lacking any insight into what his siblings are up against or how to manage himself in relationship processes. Joseph, like all of us, whether over or under-functioners, had a lot of growing up to do.
Morning: In my family and at work, where is the over and under-functioning? What do I contribute to the patterns?
Evening: When did I respond today from what is automatic for me, given how my sibling position worked? What do I want to understand about my family's multigenerational processes?
Psalm 105:3b Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.