Now Joseph was handsome and good-looking. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, ‘Lie with me’. But he refused and said to his master’s wife, ‘Look, with me here, my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my hand. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has be kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? And although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not consent to lie beside her or to be with her. One day, however, when he went into the house to do his work, and while no one else was in the house, she caught hold of his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me!’ But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled outside, she called out to the members of her household and said to them, ‘See, my husband has brought among us a Hebrew to insult us! He came in to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice; and when he heard me raise my voice and cry out, he left his garment beside me, and fled outside.’ Then she kept his garment by her until his master came home, and she told him the same story, saying, ‘The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to insult me; but as soon as I raised my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled outside’
Oh, what a tangled web we weave… Actually, this web wasn’t as tangled as it could have been. Potiphar’s wife fancied Joseph. Potiphar, himself, seems to have been so occupied with affairs of state that he neglected those closest to him, or those who should have been closest to him. Still happens.
“Heav’n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn’d, Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d”, the men among us say smugly. No doubt, female readers of this reflection will have their own (sardonic?) ideas on this particular couplet, and no doubt also their own formative experiences.
Power and sex are powerful forces, as we have seen in recent years, and powerful means of exploitation. In this instance, both were in the hands of one person, who was unscrupulous about their use in achieving her ends. Joseph’s was the stance of integrity, but an integrity that did not carry the presumption of innocence. He was clay in her hands.
Things did not go as badly for Joseph as they might have done. He came through and prospered, ending up in a very high position indeed, under Pharaoh.
But do we sometimes pay too high a price for our worldly success? Are those closest to us paying too high an emotional price? What effect do our ambitions, wishes, aspirations have on them and their lives?
And does our own personal integrity bear as close a scrutiny as Joseph’s does, at least in this instance?
Personal integrity and a properly grounded and inspired (yes, those attributes can exist simultaneously) sense of priorities have to play their part in our faith journeys. And at the time of writing of this reflection, maybe it’s not too late to include them specifically as latecomers to my own resolutions for 2018!
O loving yet all-seeing Father, Grant us the power and privilege Too see ourselves as others do, To hear ourselves as others do, And to imagine ourselves into the perspectives of others on us. And grant us the resolution To make such necessary changes in ourselves As will commend ourselves to others, As people who may be trusted without reserve, Not to exploit or betray, or use those we meet for our own ends, But rather to live for those others, close to us and further away, And make a good witness to the Gospel of your Son.
Ed Strachan, Elder/Lay Preacher, Heald Green United Reformed Church