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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Joseph in Jail

How is your memory of the Book of Genesis? With all the drama, epics, and archetypes, Genesis is just packed! Let's run through a few. 

Creation, creation again, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood(creation yet again,) the Tower of Babel(that would be another creation story,) Abraham and Sarah and Hagar, Lot & Co., Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Esau, Leah and Rachel, playing host to angels, wrestling with angels, brother-betrayals, famine, journeys to Egypt, and a whole mess of "begats!" Some of these moments, characters, and plots resonate with my life. How about yours?

One dramatic moment happens when Joseph was first a servant, a slave, for Potiphar, who was "an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard." Joseph gets on well in his job until the day he is falsely accused of inappropriate physical contact by Potiphar's wife.

And Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined; he remained there in prison. Genesis 39:20

There was no trial, no evidence-gathering, no judge, and certainly no jury. The way Egypt worked in those days was the way that authoritarian systems work most of the time. The most important factor in the economic, justice, and social system is the relative power of each person. What is important is who has power, who carried the day, and can be expected to show power in the future. The playing field isn't even supposed to be level. It's supposed to be the way it is.

In our time and nation, we hold to ideals of a justice system that is based on something other than the preferences of those in power. We have tried, with varying degrees of success, to establish a law enforcement that is just. It may be that for you law enforcement has been just, appropriate, reasonable, consistent – fair. That wasn't the case for Joseph.

Joseph needed circumstances – fate – to turn around for him. That's just what happened. He made his way back into trust, out of jail, and upward in the Egyptian realm until he was as powerful as anyone, anyone who wasn't the Pharaoh himself. Actually, the Bible attributes the turnaround using its well-known explanation, "because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper." In fairness, the text also gives some credit to Joseph's skills, although if we say Joseph was a gifted steward we consider who it was gave Joseph the gift.

Have you been falsely accused? Have you been locked up or just locked? Have you been in a position where you didn't and couldn't move forward in your job or your relationship with someone? Have you ever been stuck? If in your difficult time you have longed for deep sustenance, then you know the direction God's help comes from. Consider your heritage.

You inherit the love of God that God has for all creation – open yourself to the possibility that God's love is available to buoy you up. You inherit a practice of praying for just what you need (your daily bread) and no more – open yourself to the hope in that prayer. You inherit a way of living in which each of us shares with each other (see Acts 4:32) – open yourself to your brothers and sisters in faith that they might know your need and share with you their strength.

Joseph did find his way out of the fix where he was stuck. May this be your story too! May you always find your way through the stuck places you encounter and realize that those stuck places do not completely define your life. Your life is alive in the very being of God, the Holy One, the Source. That is where you live and move and have your being. The place where you're stuck? That's just a place you are in "for now!"