by Pastor Allison Johnson
Genesis 45:3-11, 15
I am troubled by this text and the Gospel this week. There are a lot of power dynamics at play.
From early on Joseph was hated by his brothers (Genesis 37:4) because he was his father’s
favorite. He was even given a fancy, special coat simply for being the favorite. Then Joseph has
two dreams, where in one Joseph’s bundles of wheat stood higher than his brother’s. In the
second dream the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed down to him. Eleven matters because of
Joseph’s eleven brothers. The significance was not lost on the brothers or on Joseph’s father.
As the story continues, Joseph’s brothers plan to kill him. Joseph is sent to go find his brothers as they watch sheep. Reuben, apparently the nicest brother, convinced the brothers not to kill him and instead leave him in the desert where Reuben could come rescue him. When Joseph arrived, they took his nice coat and threw him into a dry well. Judah then decides that they should sell him and not let him die because, after all, he is their brother. How kind? Anyway, they rub some animal blood on the coat and Joseph’s father thinks he is dead.
That backstory is important because as we approach the text today Joseph’s brothers think he is
dead. A couple interesting things.
Joseph’s brothers were so dismayed at his presence. Fascinating since they are the ones at fault.
Additionally, Joseph goes on to tell them not to be distressed or angry.
Joseph is the victim in this story, and his abusers are the ones upset.
Joseph is the victim here, and he is worried about their hurt feelings.
When I think of survivors – people who’ve suffered emotional, physical, sexual, spiritual abuse – I’ve noticed that people can often blame themselves. I’ve seen others worry about how their
sense of “okayness” affects the abuser. This is especially true for folks who don’t typically have
power in society: people of color, folks in the LGBTQIA+ community, women, and those who
are differently abled.
I have a lot of issues with Joseph saying that it was God who sent him to be sold. Joseph
claiming this is all from God could easily be used to justify violence and abuse in an unsafe
But if God is about preserving life (v. 5), in my perspective I can’t imagine God wanting
someone to stay in an abusive situation, one that hurts and harms life rather than preserves it.
Where I cling to hope is here: I am Joseph. I am Joseph is right in the beginning of this story two times.
Joseph can face his brothers and preserve life because Joseph has reclaimed his power by
asserting himself, by having agency in the situation. I am is a powerful statement to make. To
say I am is to own our power, our entire selves.
Boldly proclaiming I am lesbian was huge for me, and it did not come easily or quickly. It felt
good to say I am. And I can assert my power, but it still doesn’t always feel safe. But I know that in order to preserve life – my own – that there are people I keep my distance from, there are situations I avoid in order to preserve life. That’s okay because sometimes when we own our I am, that power isn’t what we expect. We trust in the Divine Power that proclaims God is about preserving life, ours included.
Joseph can face his brothers because he feels life can still be preserved, and he feels power in the situation. That makes a big difference.
This passage starts with what seems like a big but, and it makes sense because it follows Jesus’
list of blessings and woes during the Sermon on the Plain. The blessings and woes Jesus lists off are very counter cultural. Likewise, our passage is very counter cultural. Also, this passage along with the blessings and woes are the first thing Jesus teaches his followers because earlier in Luke 6 Jesus calls his disciples.
One way to look at this passage is to simply see it as Jesus urging those “that listen” to be better
than the “sinners.” Three times we read, “Even sinners”. Even sinners love those who love them. Even sinners do the same (do good to those who do good to you). Even sinners lend to sinners. The emphasis is mine because I can picture Jesus getting a little snarky here. Even sinners do these things, so what does that make you? It could be a call to reflect on your behaviors and your own piety. Do you think you’re better than those sinners? If so, are you going above and beyond as Jesus is explaining in this sermon?
Similarly, we hear the golden rule in verse 31 - do to others as you would have them do to you.
In my reading, it’s likely this is continuing the theme from earlier in the sermon where Jesus gets on a level place (6:17) and flips their worldview around. This urges those with power and status to treat those “less than” as equals. It continues to break social values and norms, so that the last, lost, and least in Luke’s Gospel are seen as worthy. Since Luke’s Gospel very much is ministry to the poor and underprivileged, it’s possible that Jesus is taking those good religious folk off their pedestal, so that they treat those who are poor with some dignity.
As with the Genesis passage, I struggle with Jesus urging a poor woman to bless someone who
curses her. It could easily justify abuse. It also doesn’t add up with the overarching themes in
Luke’s Gospel, which are ministry to the poor, talking about rich people, and lifting up the
lowly. Just look at the Magnificat in Luke 1. So, overall, this seems to continue the leveling
effect from the blessings and woes prior in Like 6, raising up the lowly and casting down the