The sons of Israel did so. Joseph gave them wagons according to the instruction of Pharaoh, and he gave them provisions for the journey. To each one of them he gave a set of garments; but to Benjamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver and five sets of garments. To his father he sent the following: ten donkeys loaded with the good things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain, bread, and provision for his father on the journey. Then he sent his brothers on their way, and as they were leaving he said to them, ‘Do not quarrel along the way.’
So they went up out of Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. And they told him, ‘Joseph is still alive! He is even ruler over all the land of Egypt.’ He was stunned; he could not believe them. But when they told him all the words of Joseph that he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. Israel said, ‘Enough! My son Joseph is still alive. I must go and see him before I die.’
This chapter of Genesis takes us first to the reunion between Joseph and his brothers and then to the ripples of that reunion reaching out from Egypt to embrace Jacob in the land of Canaan. The brothers are sent on their way now as messengers of the deepest joy. They arrive home laden with the treasures that speak of blessing offered not simply by Joseph, but by Pharaoh himself. Egypt is opening its doors to this alien household and sends the wagons that will gather them all in; hospitality to strangers is assured because Joseph is already known and loved. The invitation is enough to revive Jacob as if almost a resurrection.
The resonances to our day are striking, aren’t they? People are travelling. Across borders people flee as lone individuals and as huddled masses. We are tempted to bracket them such that economic migrants seeking better lives are far less welcome than those in fear of torture and death. Yet all may well have paid the traffickers, lost everything and risked their lives simply to stand upon our soil. My son is now working with refugees in Derby. He can retell stories of the deepest human suffering and the brutal harshness of our “hospitality”.
We need to read and reread this story of people travelling and of families reunited across the impossible miles. We need to hear of a father’s broken heart mended by a reunion he never thought possible. We need to notice those around us who are longing for even a tiny glimmer of welcome and of love. We need to notice that God’s unfolding story is very much a story of migration being a blessing and welcome being a need. In my heart as in my church what are the deep attitudes shaping how we respond to the stranger, to the traveller, to the newcomer seeking shelter?
Gracious God, travelling with us, open our hearts and homes to welcome others in. As you travelled the ancient road from Egypt to Canaan and back again keep company with us along our way. Create amongst us a welcome and a warmth that can turn strangers into friends, divisions into healing, mistrust into hope, indifference into kindness. As Joseph prepared to welcome Jacob prepare us for each day’s encounters with others. We ask it in the name of the one who was a stranger who came to welcome all of us home. Amen.
The Rev’d Neil Thorogood is Principal of the URC’s Westminster College in Cambridge