Sunday, August 20, Proper 15, Year A RCL Track 1
Genesis 45:1-15, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28
Paul says that all of
us are imprisoned in disobedience. Why have we been
imprisoned this way? So that we can be merciful to all! We are to offer grace and forgiveness or mercy to all people, as Paul says. We offer this grace because we have been given the same grace from God; through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. It is only in the recognition of the grace that has been bestowed upon us that we can forgive others. Joseph’s brothers plotted to kill him and sold him into slavery because they were jealous and had hatred for him. They even thought that they would never see him again. But it is Joseph who forgives them.
We read in chapter 39 that Joseph initially did well in Egypt until he was falsely accused, by Potiphar’s wife. Joseph was put into prison; possibly for as long as 11 or 12 years. Sometime, while he was in prison, Joseph runs into Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker. He uses his gift to interpret their troubling dreams. Joseph makes the cupbearer promise to remember him when he is freed, but the cupbearer quickly forgets that Joseph even exists.
It hurts when someone goes back on their promises and often we feel offended. Yet Joseph didn’t hold a grudge. He continues to work hard in prison; being the best prisoner that he can be. Two years after he interpreted the cupbearer’s dream we find that Pharaoh is having a troublesome dream himself. The cupbearer finally remembers Joseph and his promise. We know what happens next. Joseph becomes Pharaoh’s second in command, over his entire empire. Then sometime after the seven years of abundance, the famine hits and Joseph is unexpectedly reunited with his family.
Blessings can come out of tragedy and disappointment. Blessings come from just about any circumstance, good or bad; though we don’t often look at our hardships to find the blessings. Throughout the story of Joseph, we find that he always remains faithful to God. He knows even in his hardest times, God is with him. Even in his hardest times, Joseph works to the best of his ability, to be the best he can be at whatever task is set before him. I’m not sure that tragedy or hardship is a direct result of God, in the way that Joseph believes. But I do know that God can redeem terrible circumstances through blessings. God is not the cause of the terrible actions of people. The horrific things we do come from our human nature or as some call it original sin.
This human nature is how Paul says that we are all imprisoned in disobedience. Yet our imprisonment does not need to make us have ill will toward others. Paul says that we can be merciful to all, offering grace and forgiveness. We offer this grace because we have been given the same grace. Joseph forgave his own brothers who plotted to kill him and sold him into slavery. He is the one who was wronged and yet, he is the one who makes the first move to reach out in love to the ones who were full of jealousy and hatred. He recognizes the grace of God in his life and he offers forgiveness and grace freely to his brothers.
Clearly, we see much hatred in our own country. People literally hate one another over politics, left or right. We hate each other over skin color, country of origin, or even religious beliefs. Whether we feel this hatred within ourselves or not; we are called to keep reaching out and offering other people grace just as God offers us grace. Even if we have been rejected by the same persons several times or even a group people, we are called to be persistent in trying to reconcile a bad situation. We are to offer the same grace that God gives us to those who we distrust or dislike. God, showers us with grace and blessings even when we are enslaved to do wrong.
Now Joseph is one of the Bible characters who never seems to do any wrong. We only hear of his chronic good behavior and faithfulness. He is an interesting contrast to Jesus in today’s readings. Jesus refuses to help a Canaanite woman who is shouting “Have mercy on me.” He doesn’t want to help her because of their religious differences. She is not Jewish. Jesus wants to be stingy with grace. He says, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” The woman doesn’t go away dejected. Instead, she persists. She is willing to humble herself and agree with Jesus; that she is like a dog. But even with that said, she seems to know that there is an abundance of grace and she says please, just give me the same amount of grace that a dog would receive. And Jesus, who was going to deny this lady grace, changes his mind and offers her grace abundantly. God’s grace is like food on a table, and we are not talking about a frozen pizza or TV dinners. God’s grace is like a banquet, so generous that some of it spills over for others to receive. God’s grace is available to all who desire it.
This is the juxtaposition that is set up when Jesus talks about the defilement of the body; eating vs. speaking. Jesus seems a bit frustrated with these Pharisees who won’t open their minds to see the scripture in a new light. They want to do things the way they have always been done. Jesus is saying that God is bigger than that. Unwashed hands are not as important as controlling the awful things that come out of your mouth. We cannot live in our religious piety while ignoring people in need or spewing hatred towards others. Only a few verses after his comments to these Pharisees does Jesus catches himself acting much like them. He recognizes that God is bigger than the lost sheep of Israel. God spreads his grace to everyone.
Genetically speaking, humans are very, very similar. Large studies show that humans across the globe are about 99.5% the same. This means there is only one human race. We are so similar that there are not even subspecies. For the most part, it has only been in the last 500 years that we have identified groups of humans solely based on their skin color. And “the concept of ‘black,’ as a . . . race, was first used at the end of the 17th century.”1 Less than 400 hundred years ago. According to the Smithsonian Institution, the majority, 87.6%, of the total difference in human DNA comes from person to person variants. Only 9.2% is based on continents.2 This means that I could be more similar to a person living in Ethiopia than my wife. Genetically you could be more different from your best friend than everyone else on the planet. We as an individual, as a community, as a nation, and even the world need to get past what makes us different from one another to knowing that we are all the same even in God’s sight.
No matter where we live on this planet, we have our share of hardship and the reality is that many of those who live outside North America and Europe probably have a much larger share. Through our faith in God and his son Jesus, we receive grace. This abundant grace assures us that God is always with us regardless if we feel like a dog looking for scraps under a table. Christ calls us to offer kindness and generosity to all people; even if they are a person who makes you recoil because of their religion, skin color, or national origin. Through our open hands and open hearts, we can begin to heal this nation even if we have to reach out the person who hurt us first.