Now Joseph was taken down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man; he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hands. So Joseph found favour in his sight and attended him; he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge; and, with him there, he had no concern for anything but the food that he ate.
The closest I have come to staying in the house of the Captain of the Royal Guard was staying at the bottom end of Windsor Castle, across the courtyard from the homes of the Military Knights of Windsor and with Guardsmen on sentry duty marching to and fro. I was there with Philip, the youngest Admiral in the Royal Navy. Educated at Mansfield College, his background was more orthodox than Joseph’s. We were both part of a group who were deemed “successful” and invited to consider the challenges of assuming national leadership.
From a pacifist family, I start with no particular enthusiasm for Admirals. Philip was nonetheless striking not for his knowledge of naval weaponry, although he was an expert, but for the way the human dimension of every situation was what caught his attention first. He lived out his words by finding ways of relating warmly to every one of our diverse group. If we have to have a Navy, let people like him lead it. I was not surprised to read recently that he is now Sir Philip KCB and First Sea Lord.
I wonder what is was about the youthful Joseph that so impressed Potiphar. Clearly he could do his job, but maybe he did it with unusual humanity. The way he later treated his family in Egypt suggests he had learnt something from his earlier selfish arrogance. In every context, we need leaders who do more than just the job.
And Joseph was actually No.2. It was still Potiphar’s household. A former President of the Methodist Conference, Leslie Griffiths, likes to say “It is always the No.2s who do the work.” Not quite true, but often those just behind the prominent leader carry as large a workload for less visible reward. Those with fast-moving careers often see their debt to the calm, competent No.2s who have supported them at each stage.
Lord God I pray for those who are called to lead and for those who stand just behind them. I pray especially for such people that I will meet today at work or this weekend at church.
When I am leading, help me to notice those on whom I rely. When I am in support, make me generous and gracious even when my efforts are taken for granted.
Whatever my role, give me the insight and energy to include the human dimension. Let me see each individual as made in your image. Amen
John Ellis, Immediate Past Moderator of the General Assembly and Church Secretary of Capel United Church in Kent