Lenten Midweek 5
“The Saints of Lent”
Joseph - Genesis 50:15-21
As a pastor, you learn that some of the best stories come from your local funeral director. On the long slow ride from church to the cemetery, Larry would often tell me some of the highlights of his long career as an undertaker. In one story, the family was planning mom's funeral, and two of the sisters were at each others' throats. Sometimes funerals bring out the worst in people, it seems. The fighting was so bad that Larry closed his book and told them they could go and find another funeral home, he wasn't putting up with any more of it.
At that point the sisters immediately changed their tune and begged him to reconsider. He relented, but pointing his finger at them admonished them like a stern father, “I don't care how you behave afterwards, but while this funeral is going on, you will comport yourselves with respect and act like adults!” This seemed to do the trick, he told me, as for the viewing and the service and all the rest of his time with them, the sisters were perfectly civil. Finally they got to the cemetery for the committal, the pastor and the family saying the final prayers and farewells. And no sooner did the pastor say, “Amen”, Larry tells it, that the one sister hauled off and punched the other sister in the nose. Game on!, I suppose.
Today we remember Joseph, the Old Testament patriarch, whose official day falls on March 31st. And if anyone had an occasion to give their siblings the what-for, it would have been Joseph. They had just laid their father Jacob to rest, and now the brothers were fearful that after everything that had happened, they would finally get what they deserved for their treatment of Joseph. But Joseph shocked them all, and continued to forgive them and speak kindly to them, who had done him such wrong. “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” he famously remarks. And in Joseph we see shades of Jesus, who was also treated unjustly, but was forgiving to the last.
Just look at the parallels between Joseph and Jesus:
Joseph was his father's favorite son, born of his wife Rachel, whom he loved more than sister-wife Leah, or the two concubines Bilhah and Zilpah.
Jesus is the only Son of God from eternity – of whom the voice of the Father remarked at his baptism and transfiguration, “This is my son whom I love”.
Joseph was given special knowledge, revelation by God through his dreams. His brothers particularly balked at the dreams that had them bowing down to him.
Jesus spoke with an authority that was above and beyond the authority of the other teachers. His teaching, with an authority of its own, also stuck in the craw of the other religious leaders. They wouldn't recognize his authority either.
Joseph was mistreated by his brothers. They ripped off his coat. They cast him into a pit and sold him into slavery. They told Jacob he was dead. He was as good as dead, as far as they were concerned, though he would later reapper.
Jesus was mistreated, especially in his passion. They stripped his clothing. He was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver, the price of a slave. He was cast out of the Holy City of Jerusalem, crucified just outside the city walls. Unlike Joseph, Jesus actually died, though he also would make a reappearance.
In Egypt, Joseph found himself tempted by Potiphar's wife, though he withstood the temptation.
In the wilderness, Jesus faced the devil's temptations and prevailed.
In prison, Joseph was flanked by the baker and the cupbearer. He told of the baker's coming demise and the cup-bearer's vindication.
On the cross, Jesus was flanked by two thieves. He told of the repentant thief's future, “today you will be with me in paradise”.
Joseph ascended to the highest throne in Egypt apart from Pharaoh himself. He did so because he saved the people of Egypt, and in fact much of the world, through his prophecy of plenty followed by famine, and wise stewardship of grain.
Jesus, who humiliated himself to fulfill the law for us, is now ascended to heaven's high throne, his rightful place at the right hand of the Father. He is, of course, the very bread of life who gives life to the world. He provides not only daily bread, but his own body and blood as the sacramental feast that gives everlasting life.
Joseph's brothers didn't recognize him at first. Jesus' own people didn't recognize him, regard him as the Messiah, indeed many of the Jews never would. Even after the resurrection, Jesus wasn't recognized unless he revealed himself, as he did to the Emmaus disciples in the breaking of the bread.
And Joseph forgave his brothers on more than one occasion. He had already forgiven them, when finally Jacob died. And the brothers thought that perhaps now Joseph would punish them, as they surely deserved. Perhaps he was only pretending to forgive for the sake of their father. But now that Jacob was gone, would they get their comeuppance? No, Joseph's forgiving heart remained. His faith in the true God, the God of Grace, moved him to show the same grace to those who deserved his wrath.
And so Jesus, also, forgives freely, abundantly and repeatedly. And he teaches us to do the same – not 7 but 70x7 times to forgive our brother, to turn the other cheek to his evil, to share the grace we have received in him. Even from the cross, Jesus cries, “Father forgive them”.
And Joseph makes a home for his brothers in the safety and abundance of Egypt. There they would grow and prosper into a great nation.
Likewise Jesus promises us a place in the Father's house, in the mansions of heaven. There we will prosper for eternity in blessed communion with him.
No, Joseph wasn't the savior, but God worked through him to do great things, and pointed forward to one even greater savior to come. Still, Joseph needed the Jesus that he foreshadowed, just as we need the Jesus that we hope to imitate.
We can see ourselves also in Joseph's brothers, who conspired against him and did him wrong, and later felt the dread of due reward for their deeds. Often, even the Christian wonders if our sins are too big, too bad, too ugly to be forgiven. If we see our wretched state rightly, we'd admit we've done far worse than sold a brother into slavery. We've rebelled against our God, and we do it all the time. We gossip and lust and lie and cheat and steal and kill – if not with our hands, then our lips, and if not with our lips then certainly our hearts. Our sin is great. But Jesus forgives it all. His blood covers it all.
So when you are wronged, when you are hurt, even if you're thrown into a pit and stripped of all that is precious, may you forgive all the same.
Though the world may mean it for evil, even in your suffering, God means to work for good. Who knows what he may bring of it?
When it seems like everyone has forgotten you, even your own family is against you, and there's pain and sorrow a-plenty, look to Jesus. He will provide for you. He will remember you. He will forgive you. Your life is only, ever, and always in him.