Sunday, February 12, 2012

Petty Honors and Acres of Shame

Our Western culture is based on the concept of legal right and wrong. This is in contrast to Eastern culture, which is based on honor and shame. It is clear that in this day of endless reality television shows, many Americans struggle to even grasp the ideas of honor and shame. We may not be prosecutable according to the law, but do we bring honor to ourselves and our families in what we do. Or will our legacy be one of shame?

Genesis 49:1-7
 Then Jacob called for his sons and said: "Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come. 2 "Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob; listen to your father Israel. 3 "Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power. 4 Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father's bed, onto my couch and defiled it. 5 "Simeon and Levi are brothers — their swords are weapons of violence. 6 Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly, for they have killed men in their anger and hamstrung oxen as they pleased. 7 Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel! I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel. 8 "Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father's sons will bow down to you. 9 You are a lion's cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness — who dares to rouse him? 10 The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. 11 He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. 12 His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk.  13 "Zebulun will live by the seashore and become a haven for ships; his border will extend toward Sidon. 14 "Issachar is a rawboned donkey lying down between two saddlebags.  15 When he sees how good is his resting place and how pleasant is his land, he will bend his shoulder to the burden and submit to forced labor. 16 "Dan will provide justice for his people as one of the tribes of Israel. 17 Dan will be a serpent by the roadside, a viper along the path, that bites the horse's heels so that its rider tumbles backward. 18 "I look for your deliverance, O Lord. 19 "Gad will be attacked by a band of raiders, but he will attack them at their heels. 20 "Asher's food will be rich; he will provide delicacies fit for a king. 21 "Naphtali is a doe set free that bears beautiful fawns.  22 "Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring, whose branches climb over a wall.  23 With bitterness archers attacked him; they shot at him with hostility. 24 But his bow remained steady, his strong arms stayed limber, because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, 25 because of your father's God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, who blesses you with blessings of the heavens above, blessings of the deep that lies below, blessings of the breast and womb. 26 Your father's blessings are greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains, than the bounty of the age-old hills. Let all these rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the prince among his brothers. 27 "Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the plunder." 28 All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them, giving each the blessing appropriate to him. 29 Then he gave them these instructions: "I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite, along with the field. 31 There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried, and there I buried Leah. 32 The field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites." 33 When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people. 

Jacob had watched for many decades how his progeny behaved. While we might wonder (I certainly do!) at his seemingly passive oversight of his sons most of the time, Jacob reserves final judgment for the giving of his last will and testament-- which in that culture was given before someone dies. Over some of them, Jacob passes with little comment (Naphtali is a doe? Really dad? That's all you could come up with?), but with others (Reuben, Judah, and Joseph) he has much more to say. Their deeds most certainly did not go unnoticed, and now were held up to public scrutiny. This is honor and shame. Their legacy is permanent.

I will be the first to say there are many things I have done for which I am ashamed. Of honor, I doubt I have earned much. For me, I am neither the worst nor the best -- I think that is the best assessment of my life to this date. But in Jesus, I don't have to remain there. In Jesus, I am lifted out of whatever petty honor I may have earned for myself, and out of the acres and acres of sewagey shame I am mired in. He sets me in a place of honor I did not earn, and clears away the shame that I did. And in Him, I shine like the stars.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Family Patterns

There are patterns in families, just like patterns in nature. Traits and characteristics are passed on from generation to generation. Ways of dealing with life, ways of coping are modeled and repeated. We can't help it. Even when we resolve NOT to pass on a particular trait or characteristic, we still do, because we try to do the opposite, don't we? We cannot escape our family DNA.

Genesis 48:1-22
 Some time later Joseph was told, "Your father is ill." So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along with him. 2 When Jacob was told, "Your son Joseph has come to you," Israel rallied his strength and sat up on the bed. 3 Jacob said to Joseph, "God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me 4 and said to me, 'I am going to make you fruitful and will increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.' 5 "Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine. 6 Any children born to you after them will be yours; in the territory they inherit they will be reckoned under the names of their brothers. 7 As I was returning from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan while we were still on the way, a little distance from Ephrath. So I buried her there beside the road to Ephrath" (that is, Bethlehem). 8 When Israel saw the sons of Joseph, he asked, "Who are these?" 9 "They are the sons God has given me here," Joseph said to his father. Then Israel said, "Bring them to me so I may bless them." 10 Now Israel's eyes were failing because of old age, and he could hardly see. So Joseph brought his sons close to him, and his father kissed them and embraced them. 11 Israel said to Joseph, "I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too." 12 Then Joseph removed them from Israel's knees and bowed down with his face to the ground. 13 And Joseph took both of them, Ephraim on his right toward Israel's left hand and Manasseh on his left toward Israel's right hand, and brought them close to him. 14 But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim's head, though he was the younger, and crossing his arms, he put his left hand on Manasseh's head, even though Manasseh was the firstborn. 15 Then he blessed Joseph and said, "May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, 16 the Angel who has delivered me from all harm — may he bless these boys. May they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they increase greatly upon the earth." 17 When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim's head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father's hand to move it from Ephraim's head to Manasseh's head. 18 Joseph said to him, "No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head." 19 But his father refused and said, "I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations." 20 He blessed them that day and said, "In your name will Israel pronounce this blessing: 'May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.'" So he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh. 21 Then Israel said to Joseph, "I am about to die, but God will be with you and take you back to the land of your fathers. 22 And to you, as one who is over your brothers, I give the ridge of land I took from the Amorites with my sword and my bow." 

Jacob is nearing the end of his life. He was born under a prophecy, "the older shall serve the younger." He grew up in a divided house, where his father Isaac preferred his brother Esau. He betrayed both of them, and spent 20 years in exile. And yet he followed the very same pattern with his own family -- preferring first Rachel over Leah, then Rachel's sons over Leah's sons. And his preference caused his sons to feud and despise each other, resulting in Joseph's exile in Egypt for 20 years. And now Joseph brings his sons to be blessed by his father, and the crafty old man switches the blessing around, so that once again, the younger receives the greater blessing. Patterns.

I think its better by far to at least know we have patterns in our families than not. Having patterns doesn't mean that we are merely locked into a certain set of behaviors. While we will always be influenced by them, we can rise above the negative ones and cultivate the positive ones. Jacob seems like a prisoner to his family patterns, but we don't have to be.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Regret is a bitter seasoning.

Regret. We look back upon a time with bitterness, pain, or embarrassment. Regret is a fervent wish that something had happened otherwise. And the longer we live, the more incidents of regret we will have. Even the most godly among us still struggle with regret, because their godliness makes them all the more aware of how it should have been. It is human to regret.

Genesis 47:1-31
Joseph went and told Pharaoh, "My father and brothers, with their flocks and herds and everything they own, have come from the land of Canaan and are now in Goshen." 2 He chose five of his brothers and presented them before Pharaoh. 3 Pharaoh asked the brothers, "What is your occupation?" "Your servants are shepherds," they replied to Pharaoh, "just as our fathers were." 4 They also said to him, "We have come to live here awhile, because the famine is severe in Canaan and your servants' flocks have no pasture. So now, please let your servants settle in Goshen." 5 Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Your father and your brothers have come to you, 6 and the land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land. Let them live in Goshen. And if you know of any among them with special ability, put them in charge of my own livestock." 7 Then Joseph brought his father Jacob in and presented him before Pharaoh. After Jacob blessed Pharaoh, 8 Pharaoh asked him, "How old are you?" 9 And Jacob said to Pharaoh, "The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers." 10 Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence..................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................28 Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years, and the years of his life were a hundred and forty-seven. 29 When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, "If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, 30 but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried." "I will do as you say," he said. 31 "Swear to me," he said. Then Joseph swore to him, and Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.

Jacob had lived in such a way that he was now full of regret. As he stood before Pharaoh, an old man well beyond the years I will ever attain, he responds to Pharaoh's question of age with a less than joyful answer. He thinks back, standing there, to his early days with his twin brother Esau -- with whom he made an enemy. He thinks of how he deceived his aging and blind father to steal his brother's birthright. He considers his flight and exile and servitude to his uncle Laban, and his long labor for a family of his own. And he remembers how he found himself favoring first Rachel over Leah, then Joseph and Benjamin over his other 10 sons. He observes how that favor twisted his children until they plot to first kill then sell into slavery the favored one Joseph. He still feels the deep ache of those long years when he believed he had lost Joseph, only now recently to see him alive. His life was a festering wound of regrets.

Yes, he was reunited with his son, who rescued his family out of starvation and brought them to Egypt to eat the fat of the land, even at the expense of the Egyptians around them. But this was a foreign land, full of foreign gods, and Joseph's seemingly easy way with the Egyptians and their customs was uncomfortable to Jacob. His daughter in law's father was the Priest of On, after all! And this wasn't home. Jacob saw nothing familiar around him. Only his memories anchored him to the familiar. And those memories were seeping with regret.

Jacob, in the end, wanted to go home. He wanted his bones buried in the soil he had trod all his life. His homeland was not this foreign place of the Nile and the pyramid and these painted-up people. He yearned for hearth and home in the end.

I do too. Regret is a bitter seasoning. This world, with its painted-up people and foreign gods, is not where I belong. Here, all I have is my memory of my short sojourn. The years are few and difficult.

When I die, please see to it that I am taken to my Home. Where I can rest with my Father, and awake there. Without regret.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Pain of God's Mercy

I struggle at times with the way God does things. If I was God, I imagine I would do things quite a bit differently. Is one of my children in danger? Move heaven and earth to protect him/her. Do my people need a break from a famine? Well, send the rain clouds down and turn that land into a rain forest.

God does not usually work this way, and it puzzles me as to why not. Instead, He usually uses people to accomplish His will, although it doesn't always mean it is very pleasant for the people He uses.

Genesis 45:1-28
Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, "Have everyone leave my presence!" So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh's household heard about it. 3 Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph! Is my father still living?" But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence. 4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Come close to me." When they had done so, he said, "I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. 7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.  8 "So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. 9 Now hurry back to my father and say to him, 'This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don't delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me — you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.' 12 "You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly." 14 Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him. 16 When the news reached Pharaoh's palace that Joseph's brothers had come, Pharaoh and all his officials were pleased. 17 Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Tell your brothers, 'Do this: Load your animals and return to the land of Canaan, 18 and bring your father and your families back to me. I will give you the best of the land of Egypt and you can enjoy the fat of the land.' 19 "You are also directed to tell them, 'Do this: Take some carts from Egypt for your children and your wives, and get your father and come. 20 Never mind about your belongings, because the best of all Egypt will be yours.'" 21 So the sons of Israel did this. Joseph gave them carts, as Pharaoh had commanded, and he also gave them provisions for their journey. 22 To each of them he gave new clothing, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred shekels of silver and five sets of clothes. 23 And this is what he sent to his father: ten donkeys loaded with the best things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain and bread and other provisions for his journey. 24 Then he sent his brothers away, and as they were leaving he said to them, "Don't quarrel on the way!" 25 So they went up out of Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. 26 They told him, "Joseph is still alive! In fact, he is ruler of all Egypt." Jacob was stunned; he did not believe them. 27 But when they told him everything Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts Joseph had sent to carry him back, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. 28 And Israel said, "I'm convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die." 

Joseph is second only to Pharaoh in the land of Egypt -- a long way from the kidnapped boy sold into slavery for 20 shekels. He also spent who knows how long in a dungeon for something he did NOT do. If I were in his shoes, I would be just ever so slightly bitter by the time I was sitting on the thrown staring down at these brothers of mine. I think we do get a sense of that within him in the way Joseph has played cat and mouse with his brothers over the past couple of chapters. He may have even toyed with the idea of selling them all into slavery like they sold him, especially that Judah guy......

But Joseph doesn't go too far down that road. Instead, he sees an opportunity to finally be reunited with the father he lost so many years before. And in that desire, we see God at work to move His promised people to the only part of that world that wasn't starving to death at the time, thus preserving the family He had made so many promises to.

But God's mercy cuts like a razor sometimes. Violence, kidnapping, slavery, false accusations, years in prison, and the crushing loneliness that comes with being a stranger in a strange land -- God's merciful knife left a lot of scars across Joseph's back. His family was safe in Egypt, yes, but what about those scars, what about the haunted look in Joseph's eyes, the uneasy smile, and the ever so slight worm of bitterness stirring in his stomach?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The rusty indentation it makes

Well, folks, I"m finally back to writing my devotionals here after a long hiatus. Glad to be back!!

It would seem to me that life is defined by a series of big events that are balanced out by day to day living.  The big events of our life can be both good and bad -- your broken arm when you were six, your first play, taking a date to the prom, your grandfather's death, your betrayal of a friend, your job promotion, etc. We might tend to think of the good events as the ones that define you. I don't quite agree.

Genesis 44:1-20
 Now Joseph gave these instructions to the steward of his house: "Fill the men's sacks with as much food as they can carry, and put each man's silver in the mouth of his sack. 2 Then put my cup, the silver one, in the mouth of the youngest one's sack, along with the silver for his grain." And he did as Joseph said. 3 As morning dawned, the men were sent on their way with their donkeys. 4 They had not gone far from the city when Joseph said to his steward, "Go after those men at once, and when you catch up with them, say to them, 'Why have you repaid good with evil? 5 Isn't this the cup my master drinks from and also uses for divination? This is a wicked thing you have done.'" 6 When he caught up with them, he repeated these words to them. 7 But they said to him, "Why does my lord say such things? Far be it from your servants to do anything like that! 8 We even brought back to you from the land of Canaan the silver we found inside the mouths of our sacks. So why would we steal silver or gold from your master's house? 9 If any of your servants is found to have it, he will die; and the rest of us will become my lord's slaves." 10 "Very well, then," he said, "let it be as you say. Whoever is found to have it will become my slave; the rest of you will be free from blame." 11 Each of them quickly lowered his sack to the ground and opened it. 12 Then the steward proceeded to search, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin's sack. 13 At this, they tore their clothes. Then they all loaded their donkeys and returned to the city. 14 Joseph was still in the house when Judah and his brothers came in, and they threw themselves to the ground before him. 15 Joseph said to them, "What is this you have done? Don't you know that a man like me can find things out by divination?" 16 "What can we say to my lord?" Judah replied. "What can we say? How can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered your servants' guilt. We are now my lord's slaves — we ourselves and the one who was found to have the cup." 17 But Joseph said, "Far be it from me to do such a thing! Only the man who was found to have the cup will become my slave. The rest of you, go back to your father in peace." 18 Then Judah went up to him and said: "Please, my lord, let your servant speak a word to my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, though you are equal to Pharaoh himself. 19 My lord asked his servants, 'Do you have a father or a brother?' 20 And we answered, 'We have an aged father, and there is a young son born to him in his old age. His brother is dead, and he is the only one of his mother's sons left, and his father loves him.' 21 "Then you said to your servants, 'Bring him down to me so I can see him for myself.' 22 And we said to my lord, 'The boy cannot leave his father; if he leaves him, his father will die.' 23 But you told your servants, 'Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you will not see my face again.' 24 When we went back to your servant my father, we told him what my lord had said. 25 "Then our father said, 'Go back and buy a little more food.' 26 But we said, 'We cannot go down. Only if our youngest brother is with us will we go. We cannot see the man's face unless our youngest brother is with us.' 27 "Your servant my father said to us, 'You know that my wife bore me two sons. 28 One of them went away from me, and I said, "He has surely been torn to pieces." And I have not seen him since. 29 If you take this one from me too and harm comes to him, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in misery.' 30 "So now, if the boy is not with us when I go back to your servant my father and if my father, whose life is closely bound up with the boy's life, 31 sees that the boy isn't there, he will die. Your servants will bring the gray head of our father down to the grave in sorrow. 32 Your servant guaranteed the boy's safety to my father. I said, 'If I do not bring him back to you, I will bear the blame before you, my father, all my life!' 33 "Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord's slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. 34 How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come upon my father." 

Judah had at least three big events in his life that defined him. The first was selling his brother Joseph into slavery (Genesis 33). The second was his embarrassing chastisement by his daughter-in-law Tamar, who tricked him into impregnating her after he refused to provide another son for her after her husband died (Genesis 34). Now the third big event has come to pass. With delicious irony, Judah pleads to take the place of Benjamin when it is discovered that Benjamin appears to have stolen Joseph's golden cup.

I imagine that selling his brother into slavery would have haunted Judah. Even though Joseph was no doubt a snotty-nosed pain in the neck -- what with all his dreams and fancy robe, it still seems like overdoing it a bit to actually sell your brother into slavery, doesn't it? Of course, this was a better alternative to the original plan, which was to kill Joseph and throw him into a hole. But even

Judah's reaction, or rather, inaction regarding his duties to his daughter-in-law Tamar reflect on Judah's personality as well. No reason is given for why Judah doesn't provide another son for Tamar after her husband dies, which was his duty in order to preserve the family line. Even after his younger son was old enough to take a wife, Judah doesn't act. It could be that Judah just didn't like Tamar very much, but I think it could also be that he was brooding over what he had done to Joseph not too long before that.

Our sin can throttle us, it can paralyze us to the point of being unable to ever become the people we are supposed to be. Until we allow God to remove it from us, that is. But even then, the rusty impression of those chains remain -- the particular pattern of our particular sin, lay across our backs for the rest of our lives. Judah was marked by what he had done to Joseph, and even though he did not know who he was speaking to when he offered his life in place of Benjamin's, the mark of Judah's particular sin was evident.

Our redemption is true, make no mistake. Jesus completely forgives us when we come to Him. But we are marked by the pattern of our particular sin, make no mistake. And it remains all our earthly life.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

To be wholly just is to also be alone

Mercy is something our culture is generally unfamiliar with. In this Age Of The Individual, it is up to you to get what you deserve, both good and bad. What you have done for yourself, the story you have told through your life, the person you portray in business and at home, determines what you should receive. And that is only fair, right?

 Genesis 43:1-34
"Now the famine was still severe in the land. 2 So when they had eaten all the grain they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, "Go back and buy us a little more food." 3 But Judah said to him, "The man warned us solemnly, 'You will not see my face again unless your brother is with you.' 4 If you will send our brother along with us, we will go down and buy food for you. 5 But if you will not send him, we will not go down, because the man said to us, 'You will not see my face again unless your brother is with you.'" 6 Israel asked, "Why did you bring this trouble on me by telling the man you had another brother?" 7 They replied, "The man questioned us closely about ourselves and our family. 'Is your father still living?' he asked us. 'Do you have another brother?' We simply answered his questions. How were we to know he would say, 'Bring your brother down here'?" 8 Then Judah said to Israel his father, "Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die. 9 I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life. 10 As it is, if we had not delayed, we could have gone and returned twice." 11 Then their father Israel said to them, "If it must be, then do this: Put some of the best products of the land in your bags and take them down to the man as a gift — a little balm and a little honey, some spices and myrrh, some pistachio nuts and almonds. 12 Take double the amount of silver with you, for you must return the silver that was put back into the mouths of your sacks. Perhaps it was a mistake. 13 Take your brother also and go back to the man at once. 14 And may God Almighty grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you. As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved." 15 So the men took the gifts and double the amount of silver, and Benjamin also. They hurried down to Egypt and presented themselves to Joseph. 16 When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, "Take these men to my house, slaughter an animal and prepare dinner; they are to eat with me at noon." 17 The man did as Joseph told him and took the men to Joseph's house. 18 Now the men were frightened when they were taken to his house. They thought, "We were brought here because of the silver that was put back into our sacks the first time. He wants to attack us and overpower us and seize us as slaves and take our donkeys." 19 So they went up to Joseph's steward and spoke to him at the entrance to the house. 20 "Please, sir," they said, "we came down here the first time to buy food. 21 But at the place where we stopped for the night we opened our sacks and each of us found his silver — the exact weight — in the mouth of his sack. So we have brought it back with us. 22 We have also brought additional silver with us to buy food. We don't know who put our silver in our sacks." 23 "It's all right," he said. "Don't be afraid. Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks; I received your silver." Then he brought Simeon out to them. 24 The steward took the men into Joseph's house, gave them water to wash their feet and provided fodder for their donkeys. 25 They prepared their gifts for Joseph's arrival at noon, because they had heard that they were to eat there. 26 When Joseph came home, they presented to him the gifts they had brought into the house, and they bowed down before him to the ground. 27 He asked them how they were, and then he said, "How is your aged father you told me about? Is he still living?" 28 They replied, "Your servant our father is still alive and well." And they bowed low to pay him honor. 29 As he looked about and saw his brother Benjamin, his own mother's son, he asked, "Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?" And he said, "God be gracious to you, my son." 30 Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there. 31 After he had washed his face, he came out and, controlling himself, said, "Serve the food." 32 They served him by himself, the brothers by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, for that is detestable to Egyptians. 33 The men had been seated before him in the order of their ages, from the firstborn to the youngest; and they looked at each other in astonishment. 34 When portions were served to them from Joseph's table, Benjamin's portion was five times as much as anyone else's. So they feasted and drank freely with him." 

But what about injustice? What about what has happened to Joseph? Now that he is in a position of incredible power, he could exact an exquisite kind of vengeance on these men -- who despised him and hated him for no fault of his own save having a big mouth. And yet, he doesn't. He plays out a game with them (initially looking like cat-and-mouse, but ultimately to bring his whole family together with him again), but rather than throw them into the very prison in which he languished for years, he is kind and merciful to them.
Why? Because having his family together again was more important to him than exacting justice.

And this is exactly what motivates God with His family as well. We, who have betrayed Him countless times, are recipients of a countless mercy. Whereas He could and in fact should destroy us for our unfaithfulness, instead He sent His own Son to die in our place. So instead of being right and also alone, like Joseph, God has chosen to lay aside His claim to justice and pour out mercy, so that He can have His family with Him again.

Now if only mercy was a better know virtue among us.......

Sunday, October 2, 2011

We don't get what we deserve

I love a good detective story. I'm a big fan of Law and Order: Criminal Intent. I am like most people, I like it when the criminals get caught in their own webs. We love it when we can see injustice come back around to bite the bad guy.

Things are more difficult in the real world, though. Far too often, the tapestry of someone's life is marred and torn by some trauma that is never resolved. There is no neat capture of the bad guy, or of someone getting what they deserve. And sometimes, not getting what they deserve is a good thing.

Genesis 42:1-23
 "When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, "Why do you just keep looking at each other?" 2 He continued, "I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us, so that we may live and not die." 3 Then ten of Joseph's brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt. 4 But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph's brother, with the others, because he was afraid that harm might come to him. 5 So Israel's sons were among those who went to buy grain, for the famine was in the land of Canaan also. 6 Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the one who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph's brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground. 7 As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them. "Where do you come from?" he asked. "From the land of Canaan," they replied, "to buy food." 8 Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. 9 Then he remembered his dreams about them and said to them, "You are spies! You have come to see where our land is unprotected." 10 "No, my lord," they answered. "Your servants have come to buy food. 11 We are all the sons of one man. Your servants are honest men, not spies." 12 "No!" he said to them. "You have come to see where our land is unprotected." 13 But they replied, "Your servants were twelve brothers, the sons of one man, who lives in the land of Canaan. The youngest is now with our father, and one is no more." 14 Joseph said to them, "It is just as I told you: You are spies! 15 And this is how you will be tested: As surely as Pharaoh lives, you will not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here. 16 Send one of your number to get your brother; the rest of you will be kept in prison, so that your words may be tested to see if you are telling the truth. If you are not, then as surely as Pharaoh lives, you are spies!" 17 And he put them all in custody for three days. 18 On the third day, Joseph said to them, "Do this and you will live, for I fear God: 19 If you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here in prison, while the rest of you go and take grain back for your starving households. 20 But you must bring your youngest brother to me, so that your words may be verified and that you may not die." This they proceeded to do. 21 They said to one another, "Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that's why this distress has come upon us." 22 Reuben replied, "Didn't I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn't listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood." 23 They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter. 24 He turned away from them and began to weep, but then turned back and spoke to them again. He had Simeon taken from them and bound before their eyes. 25 Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, to put each man's silver back in his sack, and to give them provisions for their journey. After this was done for them, 26 they loaded their grain on their donkeys and left. 27 At the place where they stopped for the night one of them opened his sack to get feed for his donkey, and he saw his silver in the mouth of his sack. 28 "My silver has been returned," he said to his brothers. "Here it is in my sack."Their hearts sank and they turned to each other trembling and said, "What is this that God has done to us?" 29 When they came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them. They said, 30 "The man who is lord over the land spoke harshly to us and treated us as though we were spying on the land. 31 But we said to him, 'We are honest men; we are not spies. 32 We were twelve brothers, sons of one father. One is no more, and the youngest is now with our father in Canaan.' 33 "Then the man who is lord over the land said to us, 'This is how I will know whether you are honest men: Leave one of your brothers here with me, and take food for your starving households and go. 34 But bring your youngest brother to me so I will know that you are not spies but honest men. Then I will give your brother back to you, and you can trade in the land.'" 35 As they were emptying their sacks, there in each man's sack was his pouch of silver! When they and their father saw the money pouches, they were frightened. 36 Their father Jacob said to them, "You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!" 37 Then Reuben said to his father, "You may put both of my sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Entrust him to my care, and I will bring him back." 38 But Jacob said, "My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow." 

What would you have done, had you been in Joseph's shoes. Would you be thinking,  "Hey, I know I was an obnoxious kid but plotting my murder and selling me into slavery? Really?" And what about all the hardship Joseph endured in Egypt until this point? Slavery is not fun. And then to have your mistress try to seduce you and get charged with attempted rape --- and thrown into prison? This is sounding a little like the setup of The Count of Monte Cristo.

But remember what I said before, about it sometimes being a good thing we don't always get what we deserve? That's the part where I suddenly remember that I am on the hook for countless injustices (small though they may be these days). I am the bad guy in someone else's revenge fantasy.

Let's hold off on everyone getting what they deserve for just a little while longer. Please? Just a little while longer?