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Pentecost 9 August 14, 2011

Pentecost 9 Proper 14A RCL August 14, 2011

Genesis 45: 1-13
Psalm 133
Romans 11: 1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

This morning, we continue with the story of Joseph. We recall that Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, who envied him because their father, Jacob, loved Jacob best and gave him an extraordinary coat. When Jacob reached Egypt, he rose to an important position second only to the Pharaoh, and he man
aged all the business of the kingdom on the Pharaoh’s behalf.

The Pharaoh had had a dream which signified that there would be seven years of good crops and seven years of famine. Under Joseph’s direction, grain had been saved from the seven good years to carry the kingdom through the famine.

The famine also affected Canaan. Jacob sends his sons to buy food in Egypt, but he keeps his beloved Benjamin with him, for he fears for his safety. The brothers arrive in Egypt.  They come before the powerful man who is in charge of selling the grain. Joseph recognizes them, but they have no idea who he is.

Joseph accuses them of spying. The brothers tell him their family story. They tell about their old father, who is waiting at home with their youngest brother. They tell how another brother was killed years ago.
Joseph nearly breaks into tears in front of them. He puts them in prison. Three days later, he tells them that they can have grain if they will leave one brother as a hostage and bring their youngest brother back to Egypt.

The brothers are scared, and they speak in their own language, thinking no one can understand them, since Joseph has spoken to them through an interpreter. Of course, Joseph understands every word. The brothers are saying that none of this would have happened if they had not sold Joseph into slavery. Again, he has trouble not bursting into tears.

Simeon remains as hostage, Joseph instructs his steward to place the money that the brothers have brought to pay for the grain on top of their packs. At their first stop, they find the money. This puzzles them. When they get home, they tell Jacob the whole story.

The famine continues, and now they have to return to Egypt with Benjamin. Once again, they meet with the governor. They have brought back the money that was left in their packs plus additional funds to buy more food. They have also brought a small present from their father.

This time, the governor, Joseph, invites them to a meal at his home. They introduce Joseph to Benjamin and give him their gift. Joseph has to leave to collect himself. At the meal, the brothers notice that they are seated in order of their ages. Also, Benjamin gets an especially large portion.

They set off for home, but Joseph has set a trap, He has instructed his steward to place Joseph’s cup in Benjamin’s pack. The steward catches up with the brothers, accuses them of stealing his master’s cup, and finds the cup in Benjamin’s pack. They all go back to appear before Joseph. He says that Benjamin must stay. Judah offers to stay instead. He explains the whole story to Joseph, emphasizing that, if Benjamin does not go home, it will kill Jacob.

Now Joseph begins to break down. He tells them that he is their long-lost brother. He tells them not to be distressed or angry with themselves for selling him into slavery. He says, “God sent me before you to preserve life.” He tells them to go home and bring back their father and the whole family, and they will live in peace under his protection and will have plenty to eat. The brothers go back to Canaan and tell Jacob this tale of incredibly rich blessing. Jacob can’t wait to go to Egypt and see Joseph and Benjamin again.

What a beautiful story! Herbert O’Driscoll writes of the tale of Joseph, “One of the loveliest things in life is to encounter a person who has every reason for being bitter and vengeful, but who refuses to be either. Instead, they remain generous, forgiving, accepting.” Joseph refuses to hang on to any resentment about what his brothers did. He and God have worked it out.

Paul, a Roman citizen, a Jew, a Pharisee who now follows Jesus with all his heart and soul and mind and strength, makes it clear that he knows that God does not reject his people just because they are not following Christ.

In the gospel, Jesus tells us that it is more important to pay attention to what goes out of our body than what goes into out body. Dietary laws are not as important as the attitudes with which we speak.  Are we speaking love and peace, or are we speaking hatred, dishonesty, and other negative thoughts and feelings?

Jesus meets a Canaanite woman. Her daughter is ill. She needs help. Jesus at this point is misunderstanding the scope of his ministry. He thinks he can help only the Jewish people. She begs him. He gives a distinctly unloving answer: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She is not deflected from her mission.  She refuses to be excluded. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” Coolly, calmly, with laser focus, she becomes the agent through whom Jesus realizes his ministry is to all people. “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Jesus is fully human as well as fully divine. He thinks his ministry is limited. This Canaanite woman is not one of God’s chosen people. He should not even be speaking to her. She is a woman and she is not a Jew. But he does respond to her, and she becomes the teacher! And he has the humility to learn from her!

Joseph has a deep faith. He could have consumed himself in hatred of his brothers. But no, he saves his whole family. Paul knows that God loves all people. Jesus could have just walked past this woman. He didn’t. She could have been crushed by his sharp remark. She was not. He could have been too arrogant to listen to her point. He was not. She leads him into this powerful truth about his ministry. All of these wonderful holy examples, Joseph, Paul, and the Canaanite woman, show us  the kind of courage and compassion we are called to show forth in our lives and journeys. May God give us the grace to follow their example.    Amen.

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