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Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It’s not easy being the Golden Boy of the family. Well, at least that’s what I have heard. My siblings might disagree, but I saw myself as the awkward Clark Kent character in the Haug family, not as Superman. Golden boys and girls, however, have always been a part of the human story. Life for them comes easily. They are first ones chosen when captains choose sides. Success comes to them at an early age, and they seem to garner the most accolades for the least amount of effort- especially from their parents. In addition to praises, they receive an equally abundant amount of resentment from brothers and sisters- who are struggling to be noticed. That was the family that Joseph entered.
Joseph was truly the Golden Boy. In the Orthodox Church, he was known not simply as the dreamer, but as Joseph the Righteous and the Handsome. Not many religious characters I know would have that name engraved into their headstone. Joseph did. Unfortunately, the gift of interpreting dream as well as his good looks would become his greatest liabilities.
This morning, I would like explore the life of the last of the great figures of the Book of Genesis- Joseph. He is honored in the Jewish, Christian and Moslem tradition, not as a patriarch or saint. But he is regarded as a righteous man who used his gift of interpreting dreams and his noble character to save his people. The early Church Fathers saw great similarities between Joseph and Jesus. He was mocked by his family, sold for pieces of silver, stripped of his robe, delivered in the hands of foreigners, falsely accused, thrown into prison, faithful amid temptation, and stood before foreign rulers. On Monday of Holy Week, the Orthodox Church remembers the Righteous and Handsome Joseph from the Book of Genesis who by his innocent suffering and patience, conquered the enemy.
Dreams play an important part of our lives, although we tend to forget them when we wake. Several great scientists, however, were so taken by their dreams that they wrote them down for later inspiration. Sir Isaac Newton spoke often of the falling apple and the theory of gravity which developed. Alexander Graham Bell’s, the inventor of the telephone, dreamed of speaking to his mother who was profoundly deaf. Both men regarded dreams as the playground of new ideas.
Joseph, like the rest of his half-brothers, was born in Mesopotamia in Paddam-Aram. As the eleventh of twelve sons, Joseph shouldn’t have expected much from life. But he was the Golden Boy in a very conflicted family, two wives, two maids, and 13 children, all to one husband and father, Jacob. Now that wouldn’t have been such a great problem, if all were treated equally. Unfortunately, Joseph was the favorite of his father’s 12 sons and everyone knew it. Joseph’s mother Rachel was Jacob’s favorite wife, had died in childbirth on the journey from Paddan-Aram to Canaan, when Joseph was 10 years old. His younger brother Benjamin was the only one of Joseph’s brother to look up to the handsome and young dreamer.
When Joseph was seventeen years old he had two dreams. In the first dream, Joseph and his brothers gathered bundles of grain, of which those his brothers’ bundles bowed to Joseph’s bundle. In the second dream, the sun and moon and stars, representing his father Jacob and his late mother Rebekah, and stars, once again representing his older brothers, bowed down before Joseph. Apparently, the handsome, young dreamer did not understand the diplomatic policy of don’t ask, don’t tell. He freely shared his dreams with his brothers. He also enjoyed sporting a special robe his father had made for him, a coat of many colors. The choice of colors in the coat held great prestige. In the ancient world color was a precious commodity and vivid colors such as red and purple were held in high esteem, as it was very costly to create the dyes. Joseph’s coat reinforced the painful message to his older brothers he was the Golden Boy.
One day as Joseph came out to the fields in his dream coat, his brothers decided to kill him, but the eldest brother Reuben persuaded them not to do so. “Do not shed any blood. Cast him into this pit … but do not lay hands upon him” Reuben intended to come back later and rescue Joseph, but his plans were thwarted. His brothers seized him, cast him into the pit, and then sold him to merchants on a camel caravan heading to Egypt. They then poured goat’s blood on Joseph’s coat and showed it to their father. Jacob recognized the coat and concluded that a beast had killed his son. He mourned for many days and was inconsolable.
Ultimately, Joseph was sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard where he found safety and respect. “Even though Joseph’s brothers had intended to do harm to him, God intended it for good.” Within Potiphar’s home, Joseph distinguished himself by his skills, his beauty and his ability to read dreams. In the Islamic tradition it is said, “One half of all the beauty God apportioned for mankind went to Joseph and his mother; the other one half went to the rest of mankind.” Unfortunately, in Potiphar’s home, handsome beauty wasn’t his greatest asset. Potiphar’s wife didn’t like his vain, moral example. She approached Joseph day after day but he refused her each time, citing loyalty to Potiphar and to God. One day, Joseph came into the house to work. Potiphar’s wife grabbed him by his coat and he ran away. She then pretended that Joseph had tried to take advantage of her, and slandered him first to her servants and then to her husband. Potiphar was furious and sent Joseph to a jail for the king’s prisoners.
Because of his skills of administration and moral strength, the warden, put Joseph in charge of the other prisoners, and soon afterward Pharaoh’s own chief cup-bearer and chief baker, were thrown into the prison. There Joseph interpreted their dreams. The cup-bearer eventually returned to the Pharaoh’s service, and promised that he would mention Joseph to his master one day. Two years later, the Pharaoh himself had a dream of seven lean cows which devoured seven fat cows; and of seven withered ears of grain which devoured seven fat ears. When the Pharaoh’s advisers failed to interpret these dreams, the cup-bearer, remembering Joseph, implored the Pharaoh to release Joseph from prison and summon him.
Joseph prepared himself to see the Pharaoh, and to listen to his dream. Joseph did not claim the power to interpret the dream, but rather that he claimed God had already revealed the dreams to the Pharaoh. Joseph interpreted the Pharaoh’s dream as an unfolding seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine, and he then advised the Pharaoh to store surplus grain. Joseph’s prediction and counsel pleased Pharaoh and he made Joseph his second-in-command.
For the next seven years, Joseph traveled throughout Egypt, gathering and storing enormous amounts of grain from each city. Then famine spread throughout the world, and Egypt was the only country that had food. Joseph, the 30 year old, Golden Boy, was now was in charge of rationing grain to the Egyptians and to all who came to Egypt.
Now you may be wondering, so why did the early Christian writers feel that Joseph was such an important character? After all not every golden child is gifted beyond measurer, privileged or pampered. Nor are all these children handsome and beautiful. One thing, however, is for certain, the life of any golden child or any golden adult can be shattered, and they are then left to pick up the broken pieces. Life for them will never be golden again, unless they discover the pattern of living for all to see. Everything was taken from Joseph, family and privilege, but God’s vision for him could not. That is your hope and promise as well. My friends, in these anxious days, we must dare to be more like Joseph and live by God’s vision and dream.
Like Joseph, we all can feel abandoned and put down. Since the beginning of time, it has always been that those closest to us who can hurt us most. But instead of resentment, Joseph exhibited perseverance and patience Despite the many ups and downs in his life, sold into slavery, falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife, and imprisoned, and then forgotten there for two more years, Joseph was faithful, and never questioned God’s dream for him.
No did Joseph regard his status as the family Golden Boy to be something coveted for which he should boast. Instead he grew to become a man of character. Yes, he was spoiled by his father’s favoritism, his youthful arrogance, and has own good looks, but Joseph consistently did the right thing even when nobody but God was watching. Regardless of the cost.
Joseph’s brothers resented that he was their taskmaster, but through the course of his trials, Joseph himself became a disciplined worker. Whether in the house of Potiphar, in the prison, or as the second in command Pharaoh in Egypt, Joseph did the work that needed to be done. The Lord made him successful. It is a lesson for every faithful worker today as well. We should do our very best and then leave it to God to bless it.
Finally, Joseph was humble by being humbled. That is not an easy lesson for the Golden Boys and Girls to learn. But it is at the heart of the gospel. Christ became obedient Christ unto death, even death on the cross. Yes, Christ himself came to serve, not to be served. That was his vision for the church.
My friends, these are all healthy characteristic of Christ’s faithful followers, but they can be hard patterns to embrace and exercise. Joseph had own troubling hour yet ahead when his brother’s came to Egypt and they re-entered his life. That is he story we will hear next week. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.