Tag Archives: family

A Favourite Son and Repeating the Mistakes of the Past

The life of Jacob

A fair bit of water has passed under the bridge since last weeks reading about Jacob. He has met with Esau at an emotional reunion; there is the shocking incident of rape against Jacob’s daughter and ensuing retribution; Jacob’s escape to Bethel, the building of an altar, God’s further blessing and a reiteration that Jacob’s name would now be Israel, the promise of the land and an entire nation of descendants; the death of Jacob’s beloved Rachel as she gave birth to Benjamin; and the death of Jacob’s father Isaac. Meanwhile Esau had been living in “another land” (Genesis 33-36)

And now we come to the life and times of Jacob’s sons. A collection of brothers and half brothers with four different mothers: Leah, who was not Jacob’s first choice of wife, but a marriage he was tricked into by his father-in-law; Bilhah, Rachel’s slave, who Rachel ‘gave’ to Jacob so that she could have a child for her; Zilpah, Leah’s slave, who she ‘gave’ to Jacob to have children for her; and finally Rachel has her two sons.

Even allowing for a different cultural setting this must have been a melting pot emotions, jealousies and jostling for your place in this family.

Joseph and His Brothers

37 Jacob continued to live in the land of Canaan, where his father had lived, and this is the story of Jacob’s family.

Joseph, a young man of seventeen, took care of the sheep and goats with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s concubines. He brought bad reports to his father about what his brothers were doing.

Jacob loved Joseph more than all his other sons, because he had been born to him when he was old. He made a long robe with full sleeves for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved Joseph more than he loved them, they hated their brother so much that they would not speak to him in a friendly manner.

Joseph Is Sold and Taken to Egypt

12 One day when Joseph’s brothers had gone to Shechem to take care of their father’s flock, 13 Jacob said to Joseph, “I want you to go to Shechem, where your brothers are taking care of the flock.”

Joseph answered, “I am ready.”

14 His father told him, “Go and see if your brothers are safe and if the flock is all right; then come back and tell me.” So his father sent him on his way from Hebron Valley.

Joseph arrived at Shechem 15 and was wandering around in the country when a man saw him and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

16 “I am looking for my brothers, who are taking care of their flock,” he answered. “Can you tell me where they are?”

17 The man said, “They have already left. I heard them say that they were going to Dothan.” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.

18 They saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted against him and decided to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes that dreamer. 20 Come on now, let’s kill him and throw his body into one of the dry wells. We can say that a wild animal killed him. Then we will see what becomes of his dreams.”

21 Reuben heard them and tried to save Joseph. “Let’s not kill him,” he said. 22 “Just throw him into this well in the wilderness, but don’t hurt him.” He said this, planning to save him from them and send him back to his father. 23 When Joseph came up to his brothers, they ripped off his long robe with full sleeves. 24 Then they took him and threw him into the well, which was dry.

25 While they were eating, they suddenly saw a group of Ishmaelites traveling from Gilead to Egypt. Their camels were loaded with spices and resins. 26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain by killing our brother and covering up the murder? 27 Let’s sell him to these Ishmaelites. Then we won’t have to hurt him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed, 28 and when some Midianite traders came by, the brothers pulled Joseph out of the well and sold him for twenty pieces of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

It is difficult to read this story and not be influenced by anything Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber have already said and portrayed! But we’ll give it a go.

What was Jacob doing? It is parenting 101 that you do not have favourites, and certainly no child or it’s siblings should have the feeling that one is more special than any others. Yet that seems to be the feeling that they all understand – and so inevitably that brings trouble. Was Jacob still playing out his childhood experiences of when he had been his mother’s favourite and his brother was his father’s favourite? Had he learned nothing of the life-time damage such blatant favouritism can cause?

Joseph bring back reports to his father of his brothers misdemeanours. Telling tales? Stirring? Naivety? Trying to cement his place as his father’s number one? Or genuinely thinking he was doing the right thing because they were doing the wrong thing and his father should know? Most likely a combination – we will never know. But that was how it was. At times that is how families play out.

But Jacob makes a show of his favouritism of Joseph the presentation of the infamous coat.

That for his brothers was the final straw. They could no longer bear Joseph.

Jacob sends Joseph out to check on his brothers and the flock, and even as they see him coming, they decide he has to go. Perhaps they thought he was coming to take back more tales of what they had got wrong, or perhaps their jealousies just overwhelmed them. The plot to kill him and say he has been killed by a wild animal forms in their minds, and a plan is made. Reuben is the lone voice, petitioning for his survival – though even he is content to leave him in a well in the wilderness, where one would assume he would be unlikely to survive.

The arrival of a camel train on it’s way to Egypt turns their minds to a different solution though – and the opportunity to make some money. They appear to have a realisation that this is actually their brother, so maybe they can get him out of their lives, and out of their fathers spotlight, via different means.

Joseph is gone from their lives and they have twenty pieces of silver.

(I’ve never noticed before the echo of the pieces of silver… Joseph is out of his brothers lives for twenty pieces of silver, Jesus was out of the lives of the Chief Priests for thirty (Mtt 26:14-16) )

This is a tale of the mess some humans can get themselves in to. One action leads to another, which escalates out of control. An error made in one generation is perpetuated in the next, with similar awful consequences. God is seemingly absent in this whole sorry story. Yet…

Not wishing to give away the rest of the story, the events of this passage eventually lead to Joseph being in the right place at the right time and able to do a lot of good (though ultimately that becomes a problem!) Not that Joseph’s brothers were in the right or did the correct thing, but that sometimes circumstances that humans make a mess of can ultimately work out. God was not in the jealousies and the plotting, but he was still able to work in the result.

This story is part of the Old Testament cycle of something going wrong, God stepping in and doing something amazing, the people go ‘Oh wow God, you’re awesome!’, then they forget about him and do what they want, it goes wrong – and so it goes on. God is constantly doing powerful, wonderful things; and people quickly forget and try and make things happen their way.

It is so easy to get caught up in cycles of behaviour. For our actions to come from how we are feeling and not what we know, deep down, is the correct way; to react from our pain, confusion and anger, whether temporary or long nurtured. None of us is exempt or faultless.

My overwhelming reaction to this story, which is so familiar it is hard to get a handle on, is of confession and prayer.

Forgive me Lord
for the times I get things very wrong.
When I go my way,
do my thing
and expect you to bless it;
rather than seeking your way
and doing that.

Forgive me my stupidity,
the actions I take
that have bad effects on others,
the times I let my anger,
jealousy
or frustration
rule my head,
my heart
and my actions.

Forgive me
when I perpetuate
the errors of the past,
when I fail to see the cycle,
or refuse to break it.

Heal me Lord
from the scars
that make me
react badly
and make wrong choices.
Free me
from how I think
and lead me to what you think.

Amen

Family Life

I’m going to start by being controversial.  I do not like church being described as ‘family’.  For all the same reasons as I don’t agree with celebrating Mother’s Day, the entirely secular construct, in church, I don’t think family is always a particularly helpful metaphor to borrow.  Also, I have a family already, I do not need another one!  I think community is a much better idea of what we are together as a church.

However, just to be contrary, on this occasion, I can live with it!  Because here, it is quite clear that the church was living as like family to one another.

Acts 2:42-47  (CEV)

42 They spent their time learning from the apostles, and they were like family to each other. They also broke bread and prayed together.

Life among the Lord’s Followers

43 Everyone was amazed by the many miracles and wonders that the apostles worked. 44 All the Lord’s followers often met together, and they shared everything they had. 45 They would sell their property and possessions and give the money to whoever needed it. 46 Day after day they met together in the temple. They broke bread together in different homes and shared their food happily and freely, 47 while praising God. Everyone liked them, and each day the Lord added to their group others who were being saved.

Unlike us, they were clearly spending all their time together, sharing together, learning from one another, praying and worshipping together.

We have lost so much of this.  We live largely individualistic lives, coming together for an hour on Sunday and maybe a couple of events during the week.  We are not living as a Christian community as they were.  I wonder what we have lost?

Would our lives and faith be enhanced by living together more closely?  Day by day sharing everything we have?  Caring so closely for one another, that we didn’t just know each others every need but responded to it?  Praying and worshipping together so regularly, it was like breathing together?

I am as guilty as the next person of keeping myself to myself, not sharing, holding back – partly because experience has taught me it is not safe to do so, from being let down or ‘news’ being inappropriately shared; and partly… why?  Because I like my own space?  Find the needs of other oppressive?  Like things my way rather than others?  Like to keep what I have to myself?  Some of those more than others, but it is a question worth asking ourselves.

Do I long for the kind of life and church style the early church had?  Or is it my worst nightmare?  Would church be better if we did it this way?  Was it a particular model for a particular time?  How would, could and should it look today where I am?  To me this passage is a genuine challenge – what do you think?

Whatever my answers, I can’t help but look at verse 47!  If that is what we long for our churches today, what are we going to do, what am I going to do, to make them living communities of faith that people see the vitality and attraction of, find God in them and want to join – not to boost numbers but that we all may find a deeper relationship with God?

Thank you Lord
for tall those
who love you
and live for you.

Forgive me the times
I have preferred
to live my faith alone,
keep myself to myself
and hold back
from sharing with others.

Heal the hurts
that make me wary
of getting close
and letting others in,
I pray.

Help us,
your people,
to find a way
to live in sharing,
in risk,
in support of one another,
that makes people see you
and share themselves
with you
and us;
that together
we may find
a deeper relationship with you

Welcome to the Family

Why Do You Care?

How much do you care about those around you?  If you saw that someone in need would you go and talk to them, or give them a wide berth?

I’m sure we all have days of doing either, depending on what kind of day we’re having, but perhaps it raises the question of why do we care?  Why should we care?

And if we continue to think about suffering, maybe that leads us to the question,

Why does God care about me?  About us?

Hebrews 2:5-12

The One Who Leads Us To Be Saved

We know that God did not put the future world under the power of angels. Somewhere in the Scriptures someone says to God,

“What makes you care
about us humans?
Why are you concerned
for weaklings such as we?
You made us lower
than the angels
for a while.
Yet you have crowned us
with glory and honour.
And you have put everything
under our power!”

God has put everything under our power and has not left anything out of our power. But we still don’t see it all under our power. What we do see is Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels. Because of God’s wonderful kindness, Jesus died for everyone. And now that Jesus has suffered and died, he is crowned with glory and honour!

10 Everything belongs to God, and all things were created by his power. So God did the right thing when he made Jesus perfect by suffering, as Jesus led many of God’s children to be saved and to share in his glory. 11 Jesus and the people he makes holy all belong to the same family. That is why he isn’t ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters. 12 He even said to God,

“I will tell them your name
and sing your praises
when they come together
to worship.”

Why does God care about us?  He has the whole world to think about – why should he be worrying about me?

Yet care God does.  He made each one of us, knows us intimately, and makes us part of his family.

I don’t know about you, but I find that pretty awesome!

Thank you God,

that you don’t just exist in some far away place;

but you know me

and love me

and actively care for me.

Thank you that you have made me

part of your family,

and Jesus has done all that needs to be done

that I can share in that.