Joseph, Jesus, and staying open to a Resurrection

Readings: Genesis 45:1-15 / 1 Corinthians 15:35-45 / Luke 6:27-38


Aside from the obvious, I spend most of my showering time rehearsing arguments with people. People (real or fictional) who I feel may have wronged my loved ones or me, or people (who I may or may not know) that hold opinions counter to my own. And let me tell you, I obliterate them – they don’t stand a chance in these arguments, I see every countermove three steps before it is made, I am witty, precise, cutting, and tie all my points up in neat little bows before making a triumphant exit from the conversation to the applause of many.


I can only imagine how many times Joseph (of Technicolor Dreamcoat fame) practiced such an argument. How many times he planned and revised just what he would say to his brothers (who sold him into slavery) should he ever get a chance to see them face-to-face. And now, here we are, Joseph’s brothers are before him – and what’s more (thanks to a famine) they are in desperate need, and what’s more (thanks to a bit of a frame job) they are in big trouble, and what’s more they do not know that it is Joseph who holds their lives in his hand. The stage is set for Joseph to reveal himself and revel in the obliteration of those who so deeply wronged him – and what’s more a crowd is gathered so Joseph gets an audience. Yet, Joseph doesn’t take the chance to humiliate his brothers… he sends everyone out of the room and embraces them. Then weeping and full of love he forgives and offers a path to new life. 


This is a resurrection narrative. The brother once dead is revealed to be alive. In this resurrection those who betrayed him for silver are enfolded back into his loving embrace and offered a new kind of life, free from famine and death. The echoes in the resurrection scenes in our gospels are palpable.


But how does he get here? How is Joseph able to look past the betrayal?


Joseph has remained open to seeing and experiencing the love and hope and presence of God in all things - even the darkness of the gallows. He held fast to his belief that God can bring life out of death, that what others meant for harm God was able to turn to good. Joseph theologically interprets his story – what you had meant for evil God worked for good – Joseph stays open to the fact that God can bring life out of death; that God can pull off a resurrection. Now it is important to note that Joseph did this work for himself. He does the work to see God in the twists and turns of his own painful journey. It is not for us to impose this kind of reading over another’s life, lest we end up like Job’s friends, chased off by the hurricane of God.


And we might say; it is only because Joseph put in this work to remain open to the possibility of God (the hope of God to bring life out of death, profound good out of what others meant for harm) that he is able to extend grace and forgiveness to his brothers. Had he gone through with those practiced conversations, had he chosen to humiliate or retaliate through violence he would have closed off the resurrecting work of God in his own life, in his family, and in the nation he had found himself a leader. 


Joseph is a beautiful example of what Jesus asks of his followers. He loves his enemies (not only in this scene, with his brothers, but throughout his rise to power where he continues to serve and save Egypt – the nation of his bondage and slavery). To those who robbed him of life, home, and riches; he offers new life, new home, new riches. He loves and gives with no expectation of receiving anything back from his brothers. Forgoing his right and ability to condemn, he forgives and withholds judgment. In fact, if we knew nothing else about this teaching of Jesus in Luke, we could argue it is just a really good sermon on Joseph – just rock solid exegesis on how the example of Joseph might be applied in our own lives.


And this should not surprise us. After all, Jesus is formed by Torah and Temple, there is every reason to suspect that Jesus might have had Joseph in mind when developing this teaching.


I wonder too if the story of Joseph also flavoured Paul’s language on the resurrection in his letter to the Corinthians – after all, he too was formed by Torah and Temple. What is sown in dishonour (sold into slavery) is raised in power (Joseph is revealed to his brothers as the second most powerful figure in Egypt), what is sown in weakness (Joseph alone and afraid in the gallows) is raised in power (Joseph the political leader, positioned to save the nation from famine). We should not be thrown by these parallels, after all, God is in the business of resurrections, and we are asked to stay open to just such a dramatic turn.


Because what Joseph demonstrates is what Jesus demands. For if we choose hate (over love), judgment (over mercy), callousness (over forgiveness), reciprocity (over generosity) we adopt a posture that closes off the possibilities of God, closes off to death God’s reconciling and redeeming work.


This is the problem of those shower conversations, or whatever revenge fantasy we may entertain in our hearts, they cut off potential, the other is reduced, even obliterated. These fantasies craft a situation in which my enemy cannot respond; they are dead in the water. By this we are denying and cutting off God’s potential to take what others meant for harm and to turn it to good. We are stifling God’s ability to work a resurrection in our lives and the lives of others.[1]


But how is it possible to remain open in the face of such mistreatment and animosity? The same way a resurrection is possible; the gracious power of the Holy Spirit. Just as we cannot pull of our own resurrection, so it is with living a resurrection life, a life marked by love, mercy, forgiveness, and generosity. To live the example of Joseph and the demand of Jesus we must fling ourselves into the care of God’s Spirit, knowing that it is only possible so long as we are carried.


[1] Pastoral Note: It warrants a mention that no one is obligated to allow back into their life those who have deeply wronged and abused them. Additionally, drawing on the witness of Holy Scripture we see that decisions around forgiveness and reconciliation should also be accompanied by reparations, redress, and repentance.