FIRST READING: Genesis (45:1-15)
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. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 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. 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. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 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. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 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. 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. 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. 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.’ And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. 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.” Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.
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.
SECOND READING: Romans (11:1-2a, 29-32)
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. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (15:21-28)
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 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.” 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.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Last Sunday, we heard the beginning of the Joseph story from the book of Genesis. And, when we did, I commented that it is a story that focuses on God working quietly, subtly, behind the scenes, upholding and redirecting a dream. In the course of the narrative, God keeps alive the dream of young Joseph but turns it in a different and life-giving direction. God takes Joseph’s adolescent fantasies about gaining power over his older brothers and turns them into a mature Joseph’s acceptance of responsibility for keeping both his family and an entire nation alive during the time of a seven-year famine.
This week, as we hear part of the conclusion of the story, Genesis presents us also with the realization that not only has the dream changed, but the fundamental relationship between Joseph and his brothers has changed as well. That relationship went through four major stages.
And the final change came about only because God had transformed the heart of Joseph through all his trials and triumphs.
Stage one: When the narrative began, Joseph was the pampered and favored son of an aging and doting father. He was a natural irritant to his older brothers. The relationship between them continued to deteriorate when their father gave to him alone the expensive, long robe with sleeves that served as a constant reminder of his favored status. Joseph exacerbated the division between them as he first started reporting on his brothers’ misdeeds to their father and then irritated his brothers even more with his dreams of power and his visions of lording it over them. The relationship between them became one of jealousy and outright hatred, in which most of them were ready to kill him and all of them conspired to sell him into slavery.
In stage two, the brothers thought they were rid of their younger sibling, yet what they had done inevitably gnawed at their consciences. They witnessed the tremendous pain and grieving that they had caused their father. And their own relationship with the now-absent Joseph, once characterized by jealously and hatred, now came to be dominated by a profound guilt.
Stage three: When the brothers later came before Joseph in their search for food, they did not even recognize him, but he knew them. Now holding the position of Pharaoh’s second-in-command, Joseph must have struggled with the realization that he at last held supreme power over them and could finally exact revenge for the horrible wrong they had committed against him. Their relationship had now become clearly that of an all-powerful master and his helpless subjects. It was within his authority to enslave them or even have them put to death. And, in fact, he did make them struggle and squirm and fear for their own safety.
But in the end, God had so altered the heart of Joseph, that he used his position, not to take vengeance on them, but to establish a new and truly life-giving relationship with them. This would be stage four. In today’s reading, after Joseph had finally revealed to them his identity, he established a transformed and lasting relationship with them as he declared simply, “I am your brother, Joseph.” No longer the victim of their jealousy and cruelty. No longer the source of their inescapable guilt. No longer the all-powerful master of their destiny. Simply their brother. God had transformed their relationship, and Joseph had embraced that new relationship to which God had called them. Despite all that had taken place, at heart, they were brothers.
Relationships and how we view and describe our relationships with others are central to our identity, to our happiness and to how we live our lives. Allowing those relationships to change can be a life-changing and life-giving experience, both for us and for others.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus himself undergoes such a transformation. For whatever reason, Jesus travels into pagan territory: the area of Tyre and Sidon in Lebanon. And there he encounters a Canaanite woman. Now remember, the Canaanites were Israel’s ancient enemies. This unnamed woman comes up to him and boldly asks him to cure her daughter. At first, Jesus tried to ignore her. He didn’t know her. She wasn’t a member of his people. He didn’t owe her anything. When she persists, he then insults her; but she doesn’t back down. Instead, she quickly delivers a pithy riposte: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters table.” Touché.
The relationship between them is soon transformed, and Jesus grants her request, implicitly recognizing that she, too, is a child of God and deserving of love and compassion. He was to her no longer a stranger, a member of a different people, of a people set apart by God for a higher purpose. He was simply her brother, Jesus.
Two days ago, St. Mark’s, along with four neighboring churches, began the tenth year of our partnership with Kemp Elementary School. When other churches and individuals have asked about what we are doing and its significance, I have often told them that, along with providing help in reading and math, the greatest significance might be in the changed relationship between our volunteers and the children we serve. Many people, looking at our partnership from the outside, refer to the work that we do trying to help “those children at Kemp.” But the volunteers themselves quickly come to view their relationship differently. They quickly come to talk about what we can do to help “our children at Kemp.” Volunteers, mostly from other school districts and communities, come to recognize that these are not just somebody else’s children: they are our children, and we bear a responsibility toward them.
The same sort of change in relationship takes place in all the other outreach ministries in which members of this church are engaged, as well. Whether it is in volunteering time with the low-income, elderly residents of Canterbury Court, serving meals to the hungry at the House of Bread, helping to rehab the homes of those in need, working as a Summer Camp counselor at Procter, re-stocking shelves at a local food pantry, or any of a variety of other ministries in which St. Mark’s parishioners serve others in God’s name – all of these can become means by which God changes the relationship between us and those we encounter. No longer can we be simply people who happen to live somewhere in the same general Miami Valley area. We come to realize that we are in truth their sisters and brothers.
As we enter into the last part of this summer break and begin to look toward next month and the start of a new program year – the 74th in the life of St. Mark’s Church – I encourage each of you to find some way that you can serve, in a direct and personal way, the needs of God’s other children in our community. In doing so, you can help change their lives. And in doing so, you might just find your own lives changed as well: changed by the God who transformed the relationship between Joseph and his brothers, changed by the God who transformed the relationship between Jesus and the Canaanite woman, changed by the God who seeks to transform all of lives in our one Lord and brother, Jesus Christ.