In last week’s reading, Joseph was sold by his jealous and resentful brothers and ended up a slave in Egypt. A great deal has happened since then! Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams eventually comes to the attention of Pharaoh, and Joseph becomes what is essentially Pharaoh’s second-in-command, having special charge to prepare Egypt for the five years of famine which Joseph has foreseen. Meanwhile back in Canaan, the famine hits Jacob and his family hard and he sends the brothers to Egypt to buy grain (holding Benjamin, the youngest, back). The brothers have to deal with Joseph, but they do not recognize him. Joseph plays games with them for the purpose of getting Benjamin (his only full brother) to join them. Our passage this morning is the scene when the brothers return with Benjamin and Joseph can hold back his identity no more. The brothers are afraid of retribution from Joseph, but he has developed a sense of God’s providence and the ability of God to make good out of evil.
45:1 Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. 4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. 10 You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ 12 And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.
Psalm 133 is one of the “Songs of Ascents” (Psalms 120-134), pilgrim songs sung on the way to celebrate festivals in Jerusalem. Verse one might very well have been a popular saying extolling the virtues of family unity. Used here in this pilgrim song, especially near the end of the collection, it becomes a song of the unity of all God’s people in the heritage of Aaron (the first high priest), drawn together in one community in Zion, the center of Jewish life.
1 Oh, how good and pleasant it is, *
when brethren live together in unity!
2 It is like fine oil upon the head *
that runs down upon the beard.
3 Upon the beard of Aaron, *
and runs down upon the collar of his robe.
4 It is like the dew of Hermon *
that falls upon the hills of Zion.
5 For there the Lord has ordained the blessing: *
life for evermore.
The last chapters of the book of the prophet Isaiah most likely have their source in the restored community in and around Jerusalem. The exiles are home from captivity in Babylon. The community faces a large question, driven by their exile experience. Will they forge a separate nation of only Jews, following a call to be God’s chosen people, or will they be “a light to the nations,” envisioning other nations coming into relationship with “their” God? Isaiah foresees the latter, while the former is pursued by the authorities of the time (see the books of Ezra and Nehemiah). The argument will go on for centuries, through the days of Jesus. Jesus signals his agreement with Isaiah in word and deed, although, as we see in today’s Gospel, even he has to make a choice.
56:1 Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. 6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant—7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. 8 Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.
Psalm 67 celebrates God’s relationship with Israel and invites “all the nations upon earth” into that relationship. The vision of God here is a large one, larger than much of the Hebrew Scriptures are willing to contemplate, but very much in line with the vision of the prophet Isaiah.
1 May God be merciful to us and bless us, *
show us the light of his countenance and come to us.
2 Let your ways be known upon earth, *
your saving health among all nations.
3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; *
let all the peoples praise you.
4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, *
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide all the nations upon earth.
5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; *
let all the peoples praise you.
6 The earth has brought forth her increase; *
may God, our own God, give us his blessing.
7 May God give us his blessing, *
and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.
In Romans chapter 11, Paul deals with a question that arises given Paul’s emphasis both on the Gentiles being full partners as disciples of Jesus, and on faith overcoming the law. The chapter begins with the essential question. The church in its periods of anti-Semitism has frequently forgotten Paul’s answer, “By no means.” Israel remains God’s chosen people—this cannot be revoked, but they share with all of humanity in their need of God’s mercy. The law imprisons all; God responds with mercy for all.
11:1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2a God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. 32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.
The first (optional) portion of this passage deals with an example of how Jesus deepens the law. The laws of ritual defilement are meaningless if we do not comprehend that defilement is something we frequently do to ourselves, what comes out of us rather than what goes into us. This reasoning confounds the Pharisees, for whom Jesus has harsh words. He then withdraws to the area of Tyre and Sidon, where Gentiles were in the majority. His encounter with one of them is troubling. Jesus seems cold, and his reaction to her does not jive well with his preceding remarks about defilement. The Canaanite woman moves Jesus to a profoundly new understanding: the barrier between Jew and Gentile has been erased, although the woman, like Paul above, is comfortable with the priority of the Jewish people. Yet she also has faith in the Messiah in whose “name the Gentiles will hope” Matthew 12:21 quotes Isaiah 42:9.
21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.