Saturday, August 13, 2011

Proper 15 August 14, 2011

          When I read today’s gospel I remembered the Prayer of Humble Access in the old Prayer Book, “we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table, but thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.”  In Romans we are  reminded, “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” And Joseph is reunited with his brothers.

          The lectionary leaves out some of the good stories about Joseph. Last Sunday we left him sold as a slave to Midianite traders on his way to Egypt. In Egypt he was bought by Potiphar, the captain of imperial guard, and became his overseer. After a time Potiphar’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me,” but he refused her, so she accused him of attempted rape and Potiphar had Joseph imprisoned. He became a trusted prisoner. The royal cup-bearer and baker offended Pharaoh and were also imprisoned. Joseph interpreted the dreams of both men. The cup-bearer was restored and the baker hanged.  The cup-bearer restored to office forgot Joseph for two years until Pharaoh had a dream about 7 fat and 7 ugly, thin cows. Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream as prophecy of 7 good and 7 lean years, and proposed a 20% income tax to store up grain in the good years for the coming time of famine. The Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of the project and gave him a daughter of an Egyptian priest as a wife. They had two sons Manassah and Ephriam.

          When the famine came Pharaoh sold the grain collected in the good years and gradually collected all the money, all the livestock, and title to all the land. Jacob sent his ten sons to buy grain, keeping Joseph’s full brother Benjamin at home. After testing their sincerity by requiring them to bring Benjamin to him, Joseph accepted their repentance in the scene which is our Old Testament lesson. Their life experiences had brought the brothers to repentance for selling him into slavery and brought Joseph to accept that repentance, to desire and to accomplish reconciliation.

          Historically the stories explain how the people of Israel came to be in Egypt. The story of Joseph seems to fit into the period from about 1750 to about 1550 BC when northern Egypt was ruled by the Hyksos who had invaded from the north and east.. Genesis says that Joseph lived long enough to see his great great grand -children and to have these part-Egyptians included among the people of Israel. Today we heard the last of the stories of Abraham, his son Isaac, his grandson Israel, and his great-grandson Joseph and his brothers.  Next week we begin the stories of the slavery of the people when a Pharaoh arose who knew not Joseph, of Moses, and the Exodus, the 40 years in the desert, and the coming to the promised land. At the Exodus Joseph’s descendants took his body with them and eventually buried it at Nablus in the West Bank where Palestinians and Jewish settlers continue to fight over it.

          Joseph is a lesson about God’s ability to bring good out of evil, about God’s will for repentance and reconciliation, as the psalm says, “how good and pleasant it is, when brethren live together in unity.”

          But unity, and repentance and reconciliation are hard work. It is easier to exclude those who are different. In today’s Gospel Jesus went to what is now southern Lebanon – perhaps to get away from the crowds seeking healing. It didn’t work. A woman of that country cried after him, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David, my daughter is tormented by a demon!” The disciples were also tired of the crowds and wanted to shut up the noise. Jesus’ response is “"I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." It is a strange response to us who know Jesus as the savior of the world. But Jesus knew the limitations of time and space. He knew that the responsibility and authority to heal the world would be the gift of the Holy Spirit to the whole body of believers after his death and resurrection. Jesus’ earthly ministry was limited in time and space; the spiritual ministry of Jesus by his Holy Spirit in the church is limited only by the short time remaining until Jesus comes to earth at the end of time.

          Jews and Canaanites called each other names. The Greek has kuna’ria. We vary that some, and not always do we use it as an insult. The bread of the children can refer to God’s special gift of manna in the desert. But the woman gives it right back, in words that we used to hear in the Prayer of Humble Access, ““we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table, but thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.”  Jesus recognized her faith and not only healed her daughter but in doing so brought her into the fellowship of saving faith. “’Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.”

          God’s can bring good out of evil. God’s will is for repentance and reconciliation. “How good and pleasant it is, when brethren live together in unity.”   

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