New International Version
5 Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.”[a] 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’”[b] (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’”[c] (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,”[d] that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: 9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Matthew 14:22-33 New International Version (NIV)
Jesus Walks on the Water
22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up to a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Joseph’s Dreams of Greatness
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. 3Now 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 a coat of many colors; (Meaning of Heb uncertain”);”* 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.
Joseph Is Sold by His Brothers
12 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.’ 17 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 they conspired to kill him before he came near them. 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 there 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, lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
What’s in your Closet?
The Rev Dr Dianne ES Carpenter
13 August 2023
Jacob is already well up in the years when chapter 37 opens. Remember, Jacob had two wives and two servant women, concubines. Leah, the first wife whom Jacob tricked into marrying, was the mother of six boys. Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife, was the mother of two boys. The two concubines were mothers of four boys together. The total number of sons of Jacob at this time was 12. Twelve sons. Not bad for somebody who started out with nothing, just hoping to establish a great nation through his descendants.
We already know that Jacob loved Rachel above all the other mothers of his children, but Rachel died while giving birth to her youngest son, Benjamin. So, Jacob was left grieving and clutching tightly to her memory through the affections of the two boys she’d birthed: Joseph and Benjamin.
And this dysfunctional favoritism, unresolved grief, or whatever it was Jacob was dealing with, well, it had a way of rippling down into his relationships with his children and, as a result, their relationships with each other. And that is exactly what today’s story is all about.
Turns out that, though Joseph was number 11 out of 12 sons of Jacob, Jacob had specifically chosen him as his favorite child. I certainly know how it feels to be sure your parents have a favorite . . . and it’s not you. We all often think the favorite is someone besides ourselves! But if we study the Hebrew text carefully there is no disputing that Joseph was by far the favored child of Jacob.
We’re told that Joseph had been assigned to a supervisory position in the family business, responsible for reporting back on the activities of his brothers—who were busy managing Jacob’s herds and herds of flocks. The text tells us that Joseph was 17 years old when the story begins and, remember, the 11th out of 12, so you might imagine the dynamic of 17-year-old Joseph running home to his Daddy to report that his older brothers were taking extra-long lunch breaks!
To make matters worse, we’re told that Jacob had gifted Joseph with a beautiful coat. The Hebrew descriptive words in that section of the text are unclear, so scholars have translated them to say a “coat of many colors” or a “long-sleeved coat.” The Hebrew phrase Kethoneth passim could also be understood to mean “a coat with special markings” or “a coat with long stripes.” It was the good old King James translation of the Bible from 1611 that popularized the phrase we learned in Sunday School: “Joseph’s coat of many colors.” And the particular Hebrew word for “coat” here is used only one other time in the Hebrew text, in 2 Samuel, when we learn that Tamar, daughter of King David, wore a special royal garment. And to be called by the same name a garment of the king’s daughter would be called, well, we must know that Joseph’s coat was not just any coat, that’s for sure.
Distinctive clothing is often a special sign. So at graduation, the professors wear their college colors and at ordination clergy wear their best robes – their Red robes or stoles to signify the Holy Spirit and Pentecost.
Whenever he wore this coat, it was clear to anyone watching who had the favor of their father . . . and who didn’t.
Think of the situation like this: when Joseph would come down to the fields wearing his colorful coat, the drab fabrics his brothers wore would pale in comparison. And, in fact, would mark them as less important. So what was in Joseph’s closet was this beautiful status coat! Do we have status clothes?… the suit that makes the man…. The times when we “clean up” pretty good: you know, Picture Day—when even the class hooligan graduates looking like a person of means. When the homeless person goes for an interview well-dressed. When Liza in “My Fair Lady” goes to the royal ball and not only looks the part but speaks the part of a socialite!
Day after day, apparently, Joseph would come down to the fields and strut up and down, his beautiful coat swinging easily around his ankles. And he would return to his father Jacob and report any indiscretions he observed or any questionable behavior he saw in his brothers.
There he was every day, gloating on the sidelines while his brothers managed the flocks and tried to keep their burning anger in check. Remember, if there’s anything we learn from this story it is that every action has a reaction, and Joseph’s ridiculously unfair behavior, totally encouraged by his father Jacob, was bound to have a ripple effect.
And it did. Boy, did it ever. The straw that broke the camel’s back, as it were, was one day when Joseph ambled down to the fields where his brothers were working and proceeded to tell them about some dreams he had had. Remember what they were? They were dreams about all the brothers out in the fields, binding sheaves of wheat when suddenly all the brothers’ sheaves bowed down to Joseph’s. And another dream, about the sun, the moon, and 11 stars, all bowing down to Joseph.
Apparently, Joseph managed to report his dreams to his brothers with a straight face—totally serious, and the meaning of the dreams was obvious to Joseph—he was meant to be in charge, to lord it over all of them. The meaning of the dreams was obvious to Joseph’s brothers, too, and they were sick of it . . . sick of Jacob’s favoritism, sick of feeling second best, sick of Joseph’s arrogance . . . just sick of the whole situation.
I don’t think any of us would dispute the fact that this was a situation of injustice. Jacob perpetuated the dysfunction of his own childhood by repeating it with his sons, who could easily read the writing on the wall. There was no future for them as leaders of the family; even though he did not deserve to have it, Joseph was the one Jacob had chosen to set his sights on, the apple of Jacob’s eye, his favorite. And as a result, all the other brothers’ statuses were bumped down a notch—they were losing out, unfairly, because of the way Jacob was behaving. And Joseph’s gloating, whether intentional or not, was not helping matters in the least. It’s one thing to be the adored baby of the family, but it’s another thing altogether to use your special status to oppress other people.
And so, the brothers plot to kill Joseph out there in the field one day—just do away with him and his silly dreams once and for all. Their plan was to kill him and throw his body into a pit. But somebody’s conscience was pricked—the NRSV says it was Reuben—and Reuben convinces his brothers to sell Joseph to a passing caravan, to get him far, far away and out of their hair forever.
And they staged the whole thing. They killed an animal and smeared that beautiful coat with blood, then they took it back to their father, who made the assumption that Joseph was dead. And Jacob’s grief nearly cripples him, he is so devastated by the loss. Then, life continues, as it always does even in the face of tragedy and violence and pain, with the injustice perpetrated against the brothers seemingly avenged. But every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and you’d better believe the brothers’ behavior had consequences.
Curiously, God is not a figure in this story at all. We’ve come from epic sagas where God is appearing in all manner of ways, to this story, where God never appears. All we have are the actions and reactions of human beings, trying desperately to live in community, in family, with each other, and not doing too well at all. See, every action has a reaction, and we’re stuck, always, living with the consequences of our actions and the actions of others. The sins of the fathers visited unto the 3rd and 4th generations- not by God as punishment but by human nature and nurture.
It was unjust and unfair, it’s true, and Joseph’s brothers did not deserve the treatment they were receiving from Joseph and Jacob, but they made a choice to address injustice with another act of injustice, of violence, even, and Newton’s third law of motion swung into effect, as we know by now it always does. When we are faced with injustice, as Joseph’s brothers were, we have a choice about how to respond. And remember, every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
Simon Wiesenthal was a Jew who lived during World War II in an area of Europe that was conquered by Germany. During the war, he was forced to live in a ghetto and then sent to a work camp where he faced the possibility of death every day. One day in the work camp, Wiesenthal was summoned by a nurse to hear the dying confessions of an SS Nazi soldier. The soldier asked for forgiveness for the things he had done to the Jewish people; he wanted forgiveness as he was dying because he was afraid that his soul would not be able to rest in eternity unless he was forgiven.
In his book, The Sunflower Wiesenthal talks about trying over and over to leave the room because he was so afraid and because he hated Nazis. But he stayed and listened to the dying man out of pity and because the soldier begged him not to leave. Wiesenthal recognized that the Nazi soldier was showing true repentance, but he also knew that the soldier was ignorant, selfish, and a member of the group that had taken away the lives of his friends and family.
Overwhelmed with the heaviness of the decision, Wiesenthal eventually just left the room. The next day he found out that the soldier had died and left all his things to Wiesenthal; Wiesenthal spent the rest of his life asking the question: “What would you have done?”
The book’s newest edition includes the contributions of many noted Jewish and Christian thinkers who comment on the dilemma Wiesenthal faced. Most agree that Wiesenthal could not have forgiven that soldier on behalf of an entire race of people, but many also note: there’s something powerful in stopping violence and hatred with forgiveness and love.
Desmond Tutu, who presided over the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa after Apartheid writes of Wiesenthal’s dilemma: “It’s clear that if we look only toward a retributive justice, we might as well close up shop. Forgiveness is not some nebulous thing. It is practical politics. Without forgiveness, there is no future.”
Sometimes in life, things happen to us that we can’t control. Sometimes we set out, for example, like Jacob in our story two weeks ago, to marry Rachel and end up married to Leah. But even when these things happen, we always have a choice about how we will respond to the situations in which we find ourselves.
We can respond to the injustice we face with anger and hatred and violence, and maybe some would say a response like that is even justified.
But remember: every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and violence and pain and injustice always . . . always . . . breed more violence and pain and injustice.
What pain could have been avoided if Joseph’s brothers were able to face the unjust situation in which they found themselves and respond, not with violence, but with forgiveness? What pain could we avoid if we train our hearts with the discipline of answering injustice with forgiveness and love?
Every action, you know, has an equal and opposite reaction . . . and I suspect what would happen when violence and injustice are countered with forgiveness and love, might even be something akin to what happened when Jesus came to die for “poor ordinary people like you and like I.”