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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, August 5, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Genesis 37:1–4, 12–28

Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. 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.

Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.” So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron. He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father.

So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt. (NRSV)

My beloved Grandma Miller and I talked about this story more than once when she lived with my family for a time when I was in grade school. We absolutely agreed that is was wrong of Jacob to give Joseph that beautiful tunic: of course his brothers would feel bad and resent him for it.

When I pointed out to Grandma, however, that everyone in the family knew that she loved my Uncle Dick, her youngest son, “best,” she replied, “Yes, that’s right,” without defensiveness or obfuscation.

Though I couldn’t have articulated it then, I admired my grandma’s ability to hold two truths, and their uncomfortable relationship, together at one time. If my mom (the eldest in her family) or any of her siblings resented Uncle Dick’s special place in my grandma’s heart, I never knew it. It seemed as if they were convinced of their mother’s extravagant love for them (and, trust me, Grandma Miller was really good at loving people), so it was OK if Uncle Dick got just a little bit more.

That may be where Judah and the rest of the brothers went wrong. They don’t trust in Jacob’s love for them; all they see is that Jacob gave Joseph something wonderful. (It didn’t help that, in verses we don’t have today, Joseph revealed some dreams to the brothers that didn’t exactly endear him to them.) Like the older brother in Luke’s parable of the Prodigal Son, they are jealous. Their bitterness about what they don’t have keeps them from appreciating what they do.

I’ve been there, brothers.

But this lusciously human Genesis narrative holds a two-faceted reminder for me. First, I want to be like Jacob and Grandma Miller: I want to be honest about my life and how it’s intersecting with God’s word. The less energy I spend being defensive and serpentine about my reactions, the more energy I will have for aligning my responses to the standard of love I learn about in scripture, worship, and community.

Second, I want to be like my mom and her siblings, content in the knowledge that there’s enough love to go around. Being rooted in that will help me with my part of the work of being that love in the world.

God of our mothers and fathers, thank you for my family who first explored faith with me. Bless all families with wisdom, honesty, dreams, and enough love for everybody. Amen.

Written by Susan Quaintance, Director, Center for Life and Learning

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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