Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
Bible Background Between last week and this week, a few generations have passed in Genesis. Abram and Sarai became Abraham and Sarah and established a great nation as promised by God. Abraham and Sarah have Isaac, Isaac has Jacob and Esau and one of Jacob’s kids by Rachel is Joseph. Joseph has some brothers. They don’t respond well to their little brothers dreams and do the most drastic thing. They sell him off. This could be a dream of older siblings but rarely do I actually see it happen. Leave it to the bible to give us the juiciest storyline possible.
Joseph is taken to Egypt. Not where an Israelite really wants to be but here he is. Joseph is ends up in a good location but things turn south again due to his good heart and great looks. He catches the eye of his master’s wife and things get ugly fast. Although Joseph tries to do the right thing, he ends up in prison. Things are not looking up.
Things happen in our lives. Really really awful things happen in our lives. We don’t always end up in prison but it can certainly seem as though we are being punished for something. Even though we are doing our best we somehow still lose that job, can’t pay the bills, struggle with our living situation, can’t quite get it all together. Basically, even with our big hearts, we sometimes feel as though we just…can’t…win. And this sucks. It seems as though perhaps we have done something wrong. Even those of us, where this definitely isn’t our view of God, turn this direction. What did we do to deserve this?
What I love about this story that we are about to read is that God is a character as well. God is not far off and God is not doing anything to anyone. God shows up anyway. The author of Genesis tells us that God goes with Joseph. An active character in Joseph’s journey. Joseph isn’t alone. We now know that God is with him. God promises this to Joseph. Even in prison God actively surrounds Joseph with God’s presence. God reaches out kindness. God makes sure that Joseph and the jailer get along. God is the one surrounding Joseph, not punishing. While prison is what humans have done to Joseph, God shows up around Joseph.
A few months ago, I went through a hard time and while I felt as though nothing was going right, people kept showing up in just the right moments. Someone who was going through this stuff with me kept asking, “Where is God now?” And I couldn’t help but reply, “In the people that have surrounded us.” God promises to be with us in prison, whatever that prison may be. God will use Joseph to save family, to save God’s people, and to work towards a better kingdom of God. God will use us as well to create the kingdom of God on earth and to restore all of creation back to God’s loving embrace.
Quotes of the Week
“God would seem to be too occupied in being unable to take Her eyes off of us to spend any time raising an eyebrow in disapproval.” ― Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion
“It must surely be a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit that even a small number of those men and women in the hell of the prison system survive it and hold on to their humanity.” ― Howard Zinn
“Don’t worry about being effective. Just concentrate on being faithful to the truth.” ― Dorothy Day
“In my country we go to prison first and then become President.” ― Nelson Mandela
Genesis 39:1-23 (Message) After Joseph had been taken to Egypt by the Ishmaelites, Potiphar an Egyptian, one of Pharaoh’s officials and the manager of his household, bought him from them. As it turned out, God was with Joseph and things went very well with him. He ended up living in the home of his Egyptian master. His master recognized that God was with him, saw that God was working for good in everything he did. He became very fond of Joseph and made him his personal aide. He put him in charge of all his personal affairs, turning everything over to him. From that moment on, God blessed the home of the Egyptian—all because of Joseph. The blessing of God spread over everything he owned, at home and in the fields, and all Potiphar had to concern himself with was eating three meals a day.
Joseph was a strikingly handsome man. As time went on, his master’s wife became infatuated with Joseph and one day said, “Sleep with me.”He wouldn’t do it. He said to his master’s wife, “Look, with me here, my master doesn’t give a second thought to anything that goes on here—he’s put me in charge of everything he owns. He treats me as an equal. The only thing he hasn’t turned over to me is you. You’re his wife, after all! How could I violate his trust and sin against God?” She pestered him day after day after day, but he stood his ground. He refused to go to bed with her.
On one of these days he came to the house to do his work and none of the household servants happened to be there. She grabbed him by his cloak, saying, “Sleep with me!” He left his coat in her hand and ran out of the house. When she realized that he had left his coat in her hand and run outside, she called to her house servants: “Look—this Hebrew shows up and before you know it he’s trying to seduce us. He tried to make love to me but I yelled as loud as I could. With all my yelling and screaming, he left his coat beside me here and ran outside.” She kept his coat right there until his master came home. She told him the same story. She said, “The Hebrew slave, the one you brought to us, came after me and tried to use me for his plaything. When I yelled and screamed, he left his coat with me and ran outside.”
When his master heard his wife’s story, telling him, “These are the things your slave did to me,” he was furious. Joseph’s master took him and threw him into the jail where the king’s prisoners were locked up. But there in jail God was still with Joseph: He reached out in kindness to him; he put him on good terms with the head jailer.
The head jailer put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners—he ended up managing the whole operation. The head jailer gave Joseph free rein, never even checked on him, because God was with him; whatever he did God made sure it worked out for the best.
Questions for the Week
What is your prison?
Are there times when you feel as though you are caught in injustice? What happened?
Where is God with you? Where have you seen God in prison with you?