So Joseph went and told Pharaoh, “My father and my brothers, with their flocks and herds and all that they possess, have come from the land of Canaan; they are now in the land of Goshen.” From among his brothers he took five men and presented them to Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to his brothers, “What is your occupation?” And they said to Pharaoh, “Your servants are shepherds, as our ancestors were.” They said to Pharaoh, “We have come to reside as aliens in the land; for there is no pasture for your servants’ flocks because the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. Now, we ask you, let your servants settle in the land of Goshen.” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you. The land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land; let them live in the land of Goshen; and if you know that there are capable men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.” Then Joseph brought in his father Jacob, and presented him before Pharaoh, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How many are the years of your life?” Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my earthly sojourn are one hundred thirty; few and hard have been the years of my life. They do not compare with the years of the life of my ancestors during their long sojourn.” Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from the presence of Pharaoh. Joseph settled his father and his brothers, and granted them a holding in the land of Egypt, in the best part of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had instructed. And Joseph provided his father, his brothers, and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their dependents.
At first glance, it seems unlikely that this little story, rooted in a culture lost over millennia, could speak to us. However, there are plenty of messages for individuals and churches as the story of Joseph unfolds.
Following rejection and suffering caused by jealous brothers, escapades worthy of any adventure-book hero, and a prolonged, forced absence from family, Joseph now has a high-profile, high-office position in Pharaoh’s palace, where he is trusted, respected and known as an excellent listener. His family however, has hit some very hard times, and finally make their way to Joseph, looking for help.
Joseph welcomes them with open arms, is not ashamed of his relations and introduces them to his boss. One feature of this period was the importance of family, and here we see family love enduring beyond challenges that we in today’s culture might consider insurmountable. Joseph doesn’t only welcome them, he works with Pharaoh to provide them with a good place to live, and Pharaoh offers them some shepherding work with his own flock. When Joseph’s father, Jacob is introduced, Pharaoh accepts blessings from him and asks his age – indicating respect for the older generation – even though Jacob suggests that, at a mere 130, he is relatively young!
What message does all this hold for modern-day discipleship and Church? Joseph cared for his brothers in their time of trouble regardless of what had gone before. He didn’t take decisions on his own; instead he discussed and managed the choices, ensuring that Pharaoh agreed with every idea – he was an excellent listener. Both Joseph and Pharaoh respected immediate, and extended, family, deferring to the older generation. Together they ensured the ongoing care of a displaced group of people and their extended families.
Today’s Western culture may not place so much emphasis on family ties, but 21st Century disciples and churches (whether new expressions, or traditional) are called to offer unconditional hospitality, listening, welcome and care as they serve the neediest people.
Compassionate God, Be with your disciples and your churches today, as we try to lead lives of servanthood, caring for those who feel dispossessed, abandoned or lost. Help us to offer compassion at all times. Help us to forgive, if that is what is needed. Help us to respect our church and community families, and to make all decisions in a spirit of unity and sharing. Lord, we look to you for guidance as we try to go out to share your message in the 21st Century. In the name of your son, Jesus Christ Amen
Linda Rayner. URC Co-ordinator for fresh expressions of Church