“Hatred, Faith, Restoration”
August 20, 2017
By John Partridge*
Genesis 45:1-15 Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32 Matthew 15:21-28
Have you ever broken anything that was valuable to you but were later able to fix it so that you were able to enjoy it for years to come?
I suppose that if there is any advantage to breaking things, it is in the accomplishment and gratitude we feel when they are repaired and restored to us.
I have to tell you that I was disappointed.
After beginning the story of Joseph and his captivity in Egypt, I was looking forward to working through that story with you over the span of several weeks but, unfortunately, as we follow the lectionary, they have instead chosen to skip to the end of the story. This is still a great story, but the shift, I think, has been so abrupt, that I need to fill you in on what we missed so that you can more easily make sense of what is happening in today’s story.
Last week, we heard the story about how Joseph was sold into slavery because of the jealousy and hatred of his older brothers. The only brother that we didn’t hear about was his one younger brother, Benjamin, who was almost certainly too young at that time to leave home, and was, therefore, the only innocent sibling. After Joseph was sold into slavery, a number of horrible as well as truly wonderful things happened to him, but each one demonstrated that God was truly with him and in the end Joseph was able to interpret the dreams of the Pharaoh of Egypt. These dreams told of a great famine. First there would be seven years of bountiful harvests, and then there would come seven more years of drought and famine. Because even Pharaoh recognized that Joseph’s ability to interpret these dreams was supernatural, Joseph was elevated to a position of power second only to the Pharaoh himself so that he could oversee the preparations for the famine that was to come. It was Joseph who was in charge of building great storehouses for the harvests of Egypt so that there would be food to eat during seven years of famine. And, when the famine came, it was Joseph who was in charge of making sure that the food was distributed fairly, and that some could be sold to people who were not from Egypt. In this capacity, Joseph sits on a throne and, meets his own brothers who have come to beg for food to feed their families back home. But since Joseph now speaks Egyptian, and by all appearances looks to be an Egyptian, including being clean shaven rather than bearded, his brothers have no idea who he is.
Joseph actually set them up to appear to be thieves in order to make them return a second time with his brother Benjamin. This caused them great fear because after losing his son Joseph, their father never allowed Benjamin to go anywhere. And so, we rejoin the story in Genesis 45:1-15 where Joseph finally breaks down and reveals his true identity.
45:1 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.
3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.
4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. 7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
8 “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. 9 Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’
12 “You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.”
14 Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.
Imagine how his brothers felt. For decades Joseph’s brothers lived with the guilt and shame of what they had done. For decades they kept this great secret from their father. For decades they lie awake at night imagining the horrors of what might have happened to their brother, imagining how he had suffered, and imagining how he had likely died. And then, on this day, far from home and surrounded by armed Egyptian soldiers, they meet Joseph and discover that he is the second most powerful man in the world and can end their lives, or worse, with just a few words.
They were so afraid that they were unable to even speak.
And yet, instead of terror, revenge, or murder, what Joseph has in mind is thanksgiving, reunion, restoration, and reconciliation. Joseph’s faith has brought him to understand that God was in control all along. Through their hatred, betrayal, and deception, God had brought Joseph to Egypt, and even through his misfortune and suffering, God had brought Joseph to a place where he could save the lives of the people of Egypt, as well as those of his entire family.
And then we read this story of faith in Matthew 15:21-28.
21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
There are several things that we need to remember in order to better understand this story. First, Jesus is not in Israel any longer but in what had been, at various times, Syria and Phoenicia, and is therefore known as Syro-Phoenicia. You may remember that the region of Galilee is in the far north of Israel, and as you keep going north you come to Tyre and then to Sidon. If you kept going, the next large city is that of Beirut, so in modern terms, Jesus is now in Lebanon. Second, Jesus has often made it clear that his mission and ministry during his time on earth was to seek and to save the lost children of Israel. While he did, occasionally, reach out to Gentiles, the focus of his mission was always to the Jews. And so, as this woman comes asking Jesus to heal her daughter, the disciples urge him to send her away because she is neither Jewish nor even a citizen of Israel. Even so, she persists in calling out to Jesus for help and so Jesus points out that you wouldn’t allow your own children to go hungry because you threw their food to the dogs. [It is important to note here, that in Greek, there is a derogatory word for dogs that was used to insult people, and this is not that word. This word is a friendlier term that we can understand, not as an insult, but simply as a comparison between children and pets and is not likely to have been intended, or received as an insult.] But the woman rises to Jesus’ challenge and defends herself by arguing that Jesus’ power is so great, that what she wants is no more than crumbs from the table that the children would never miss. Her understanding allows Jesus to heal her daughter and also to compliment her for her great faith.
As we remember these things, what we note is that although his mission is to the Jews, Jesus still cares for people who are not. We also note that faith in the power of God and of Jesus is not limited to the disciples or to the Jews and it is this faith that opened the door to the healing of the woman’s daughter. With this understanding, we can see that instead of being reluctant to heal an outsider or a foreigner, Jesus welcomes the opportunity to reveal God’s grace and mercy to everyone who is willing and able to have faith in him.
In Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Paul explains it this way as he speaks about the “lost-ness” of the Jews:
11:1 I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.
29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. 30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. 32 For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
Paul reminds us that at one time, all of us were lost, all of us were disobedient to God and, when we came to faith in Jesus Christ, all of us received mercy and were rescued from our disobedience from its consequences. Without our disobedience, Paul argues, we would never have needed the mercy of God and the rescue of Jesus Christ. It is Jesus who brings rescue, restoration, and reconciliation. It is through Jesus that we receive God’s mercy, are rescued from sin and death, and are restored to the family of God.
It was Joseph’s faith that allowed him to have perspective on the suffering of his life. Rather than being angry and vengeful toward his brothers, Joseph understood that their betrayal, and his many years of slavery and suffering, was used by God to rescue all of them. Joseph’s faith allowed him to forgive his brothers and bring about the rescue of the future nation of Israel, the reunion of his family, and the restoration and reconciliation between him and those who had betrayed him. Without their betrayal, which was redeemed and used by God, their entire family might easily have starved, or been enslaved and absorbed into the nation of Egypt.
Although the Syro-Phoenician woman who pestered Jesus until he heard her cry was neither a Jew nor an Israelite, her faith allowed her to receive God’s mercy and allowed her daughter to be healed by Jesus.
And Paul explains that although the Jews failure to believe in Jesus has separated them from God, they have not been rejected by God. They have instead been called by God to accept Jesus, to come to faith in him just as the Syro-Phoenician woman did, so that they can receive God’s mercy, forgiveness, rescue, reconciliation, and restoration.
And so, we should remember two things: First, that although we all suffer, we may not immediately understand our suffering, but it is entirely possible that, like Joseph, God is using our suffering to take us to a place where we can be a blessing to others, or even to change the world. Second, as we go out into the world and as we meet people who do not know Jesus, what we offer them is the opportunity to open the door of faith so that the understanding of God, along with his mercy, forgiveness, rescue, reconciliation, and restoration, can flow freely into their lives.
Faith is the key that opens our lives to healing, hope, and reconciliation.
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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.