Genesis 37:1-8, 12-28
I didn’t always get along with my sister Laura. She is younger, and in my eyes, got away with anything she wanted. She always got the newer clothes and gifts, and never seemed to have to do as many chores as me and my brother did. I can especially remember not liking the attention she got because she was the youngest in the family, and the only girl.
So one day when I was about five years old and she was about two, I did something I am still very ashamed for. Feeling jealous and wanting some attention of my own, I called Laura over and I told her to put her hand around a lightbulb that was very warm. For some reason then she trusted me and she placed her palm upon the light bulb. Within a few seconds, her hand was red hot, she was screaming, and I was told to go upstairs to my room.
Looking back upon that day, it is hard for me to realize I would do such a thing. But in that moment, my jealousy, envy, and self-interest took over, and I hurt my own sister. I hurt her so that I would get some attention of my own.
If any of you have ever been an older sibling (or a younger sibling), you have probably had moments where you have felt like doing something very similar. My wife has two cousins who are brothers. And one year while trick or treating, they kept fighting over who would get to the door first. The younger one was dressed like a mouse. And by about the fourth or fifth house, the older one was getting tired of this. So as the young one ran up and rang the doorbell, he found a nearby candle, and lit that mouse tail attached to his brother. It was only the quick action of Hannah’s dad that kept that fire from spreading and doing some real damage.
We often read today’s story from the point of view of Joseph. But maybe we are more like his brothers than we wish to admit. I admit that while rereading this story this week, I got annoyed with Joseph. He would not be my favorite sibling. He is young and spoiled. He spreads gossip and unflattering things about his own brothers to his father. He alone gets the fancy coat and favoritism. That coat would have meant in his own time that he was exempt from any hard labor. So while us older siblings are all out working hard in the fields, Joseph is relaxing somewhere else, even as he is the very youngest of them all. And he has dreams of everyone else bowing down before him. I wouldn’t like that very much if I was one of Joseph’s brothers.
But for Joseph’s brothers that becomes all that they see of Joseph. He no longer is the son of their father. He no longer is someone with whom they share blood and history and a future. He no longer is their brother whom they know they are supposed to love and protect and watch out for. He becomes for them only an annoyance, an object to cast away. Their jealousy and self-interest and anger have stopped them from seeing Joseph as a person. And so the two options that appeal to them the most are to kill him or to make money off of selling him as a slave.
Now I don’t think many of us will ever go to those lengths against our own family. But we all have some of that same jealousy, envy, self-interest, and anger inside of us too. We all forget how we are supposed to love and care for those close to us.
And it is not just younger and older siblings. It is with our neighbors. It is with our friendships. It’s with our marriages. It is the way we treat others whenever we stop seeing them as human beings of great value and worth, and start seeing them as simply objects for our personal gain. It is when we forget to love as Christ calls us to love.
And as much as Joseph’s story is a story of family, it is also the story of our world. It is the story of how we have treated people whenever we have stopped seeing them as human beings, when we have not viewed them as brothers and sisters worth our protection, love, and safety.
As we look at the history of our world, we see horrific acts that don’t make any sense why we would do them to one another. We see war. We see torture. We see slavery. We see apartheid. We see terrible atrocities against native people. We see women limited in freedoms and opportunities. We see people of color treated as less than human.
And we still see that happening today. There is still slavery today. There is still racism and sexism today. There is still war and segregation, violence and inequality.
This story of Joseph and his brothers is not just for children. It is for all of us to read and examine ourselves:
-How have I been like the brothers, letting anger and bitterness cloud the way I view and treat someone, maybe even someone close to me?
-How have I been like Reuben, knowing something is wrong, knowing there is mistreatment, but failing to speak up for justice and love?
-How have I been like Judah, justifying doing something evil because it helps my own self-interest?
Those are hard questions that this passage asks us to take seriously. For Christ said that family is not just through blood, but “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
The good news of this passage is that this story, though is far from over. While Joseph’s brothers abandon him, God never does. God stays with both those who are attacked and those who do the attacking. And as we will see next week, God works not just to make people pay, but to make relationships whole, to bring us back into reconciliation. The story of me and my sister didn’t end the moment I hurt her. Instead, we have had ups and downs but somehow still remember to find times to love one another. So too will be the story of Joseph and his brothers. Even with all that pain and hurt, God will make a way for them to be reconciled. And so too for our world.
One day, we will see each other not as objects to attack and profit off of, but as people made in god’s image. That is the power grace. The story continues. But first, we are invited to look inward and see just how much we need Gods healing. Amen.