ISSUES OF FAITH: A case of holy jealousy

WE ARE NEARING the end of Lent and the number of services, and obligations, and fasting, if you follow that practice, may be getting a bit much. Lent itself is a bit much. It’s supposed to be, after all.

It’s a season that starts with the bleak reminder that “dust you are and to dust you shall return.” And it’s a bit much. The lessons for today, Friday in the Second Week of Lent, are a bit hard to take, at least at first glimpse.

The Hebrew Scripture lesson assigned for today in the Christian lectionary is the account of Joseph’s brothers and their jealousy towards their brother. He has a coat (the famous “coat of many colors” from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical), a gift that reflected his father’s love for him, to the point of favoritism. Hence, the brothers’ dislike for their brother. Well, dislike is far too weak a word: “But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.”

No, they could not. They planned to murder him and throw him into a pit that’s nearby. Another brother, Reuben, stops them from murder, telling them to throw Joseph into the pit alive, so that they won’t have his blood on his hands.

Ironically, this takes place in Dothan, a place called “Two Wells” or the “Copious Spring” (bibleatlas.org). It was known as a place where you could replenish your water and take care of your animals, but Joseph’s pit was described as dry. He might have survived the next few days, but in the middle of the wilderness with no water or food or shelter? It was murder.

But Reuben’s suggestion was a holy lie — his secret plan was to come back and rescue his brother and return him to their father. That might have been what occurred, except that some Ismaelites going to Egypt happened to wander by and the brothers decide to sell Joseph into slavery, for the sin of being loved too much by a parent who conceived Joseph in old age.

But that’s not the whole story, though it’s the part associated with this day in the Christian season of Lent. Because as the Psalm for the day tells us (Ps. 105-16-22), God turns the day around: though Joseph is “put in an iron collar” and “sold as a slave,” he comes to the King’s attention, and using administrative skills and God’s abundance, saves enough wheat in seven years of good crops to feed everyone in the region (including Joseph’s estranged family) over the seven years of famine that follows.

Lent is one of my favorite seasons in the church year because of this double-edged quality: yes, Joseph is sold into slavery, but yes, he ends up second only to the King. Yes, there are seven years of famine, but yes, they were preceded by seven years of great crops. Yes, we are dust and will die, but in the Christian tradition, will live again.

In fact, what happens to Joseph is what is called the Felix Culpa in Christian theology, the fortunate fault, the thing that is wrong, that is evil but that will be the seed for God to turn around our lives and the lives of God’s creation, even when it doesn’t seem so. Even, unfortunately, if it is simply not so.

Some of us in our society won’t see that turn around, unless folks like you and me try to do our job as well. This is something I struggle with all the time: in a society in which income inequality widens with each passing year, in which houses are empty and some people are unhoused, in which some have all the medical care they need, and others can’t even see a doctor, we face a society increasingly at war with itself.

Those of us who are more prosperous, do we sell others into slavery to do so? As I said above, this is what I struggle with every day; we all do, and should, work for liberation.

Usually, I end this column with assurances of God’s Love and I will this time as well: God does love us all. But, honestly, watching society tear itself apart gets harder each passing year. It’s Lent that makes us think of ashes and of hunger and of lack of water.

As we head to an election which will determine our candidates for president, I continue to urge you to vote and to vote your hearts, but pray that God opens our hearts to those with less than you.

Remember Joseph, thrown into a pit? It was Reuben, who “heard his brothers’ plan, [and delivered Joseph out of] their hands.”

His plan was to return him to his father, but it was a plan that would have put both Reuben and Joseph at further risk. Reuben couldn’t know that the Ishmaelites would upset his plan so badly.

He couldn’t have seen that the need to abandon his brother would lead to grace. Yes, in the long run, God will provide, but let’s make the famine time as short as possible.

Open your hearts to both the neighbor and the stranger. In the long run, God reconciled Joseph’s family to each other and fed those in need.

We need to work for peace and reconciliation as well and do what we can to reconcile where there is hate, and food where there is hunger.

It’s our job and part of our call to serve the world. Though it’s not always easy, it’s still our job.

________

Issues of Faith is a rotating column by religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Dr. Keith Dorwick is a deacon resident in the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia.

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