7th Sunday after Epiphany “In Joseph’s Shoes”
February 20, 2022 Genesis 45:3-15
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Do these sound familiar: ‘As comfortable as a old pair of shoes’; /walk a mile in my shoes. /Baby needs a new pair of shoes; /blue suede shoes; /goody-two-shoes; /they’ve got big shoes to fill; /she’s a shoe-in; /if the shoe fits, wear it; /now the shoes on the other foot; /waiting for the other shoe to drop; /I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes.
*How would you like to be in Joseph’s shoes? There Joseph stands, in front of his brothers. They’re fleeing starvation because of the famine in Canaan & everywhere; and they heard there was bread to be had in Egypt. But now, they found that the man in charge is the brother they had hated & tossed aside like trash. *Ever been in their shoes? There they stand, powerless, & Joseph is as strong & dangerous as a storm. Would there be revenge or mercy?
No one would question either decision; his word would be obeyed, no matter what he said. To the brothers, this moment stretched out like hours. Their fate was hanging in the balance so delicately that a feather could tip the scales. In desperation they came to Egypt for grain; instead they found guilt; they now faced the end of a story they didn’t realize was still being written. What would be Joseph’s word: life or death? Bread or justice?
I think that God tells us about all these various Biblical people so that we would spend some time walking in their shoes. God wants us to hear the stunned silence that followed the stilled storm; He wants us to open our eyes for the first time with Blind Bartimaeus, and to look with the eyes of the healed lepers seeing their cancerous skin restored to new. This is really the best definition of Christian ‘meditation’, which is not anything like ‘eastern’ or yoga meditation. It is not emptying the mind, but having the HSp. fill our mind with being there in Scripture. Because our Lord & Savior has promised also to be with us, so when we read of the disciples, we get to stand in their shoes, next to Jesus, and watch God at work.
But this morning, jumping right into Genesis chpt.45, we’re not ready yet to stand in Joseph’s shoes. To be ready, we need to have first walked those many, many miles leading up to this place where he’s standing. Otherwise, we will probably make the wrong decision =
if we were standing there in his place.
*What place is that? Joseph is the de facto ruler of mighty Egypt, the nation that rules the civilized world; truly one of the most powerful men in the world. His Egyptian name is ‘Zaphenath-paneah’, that’s who stands before his brothers, holding their well-being in his hands, with the power to give life or the power to take it away. He’s clothed in the finest that the world had to offer. His hands are heavy with jewelry. Especially that gold signet ring seen on his tanned hand; it means he can make decisions in the Pharaoh’s name. He can command the army, sign a treaty, give life and give death with just a word.
Most of us would not want Joseph’s power, not like that; it’s too much responsibility. But don’t we wish to be in control of things = of situations & people? And we do dream of having Joseph’s affluence. We don’t want his signet ring, but we can envision ourselves with the other jewelry. Rings & chains can just be accessories, but certain pieces show others that we’ve achieved great things. Like the LA Rams football team wearing their new Superbowl rings. How about a Rolex watch, a diamond broach, or the newest phone or car.
Maybe showing affluence isn’t in rings, maybe it’s in footwear. Marilyn Monroe once said: ‘give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world.’ Zaphenath-paneah has everything he needs & more; and the shoes you & I aren’t ready to stand in yet, they’re the best that money could buy. Joseph had whatever was the new fashion that year in the Nile River Valley; maybe he had crocodile sandals covered in leopard fir.
But then, who needs those in Minnesota in February? Who really wants great power or affluence? Mostly, you & I want just enough control over our lives to live simply; be fed, content, & at peace. Altho, there IS something else here we could have a deep desire for; something Joseph has after surviving those 9 chapters of tough living: He sees clearly the plan of God for his life. That’s priceless, isn’t it?
While his brothers wait at his feet for what their fate will be, Joseph thinks back over his life, & over things no one would wish for, and he sees God’s hand in every place.
Each different place he woke up alone in, and each time he sat in tears wondering what tomorrow would bring. From where he’s standing now, he can see the winding path & purpose of a wise & powerful God. God had a plan for the 11th son of Jacob, & now he sees it. God assures YOU that He has a plan for you, too; it’s true. Wouldn’t you like to know what it is?
Do you remember back a few chapters in your life-story; times when you turned left instead of right, times when you said ‘no’ instead of ‘yes’, or ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’? Do you look back with some disappointment, regretting all the ‘what ifs’ & ‘maybe I should’ves’? We might envy Joseph a little. Wouldn’t you sleep better knowing that you stand today exactly where God wanted you to be?
Maybe you are a Joseph (or Josephine), who does look on your life this moment and you see God’s hand, how He guided you to be the woman you are, or the man you are, and how He brought you to this moment for His own good reasons. If so, that’s a great blessing. Joseph’s brothers should’ve been able to reach the same conclusion, but they were still struggling with it. Do you see God’s plan for you & your life? Now, be careful; oftentimes, people think they know God’s plan; but what they see is their own plan & they’re just hoping it’s God’s plan, too. So, they’re not confident. At times, God’s plan looks like a blurry puzzle. But on that day, for Joseph, God’s plan is crystal clear.
The reason that Joseph’s brothers were fretting about their fate is because, many years ago, they were mad at young Joseph, who had dreams that he was great & they were lowly. They were frustrated that father-Jacob favored him. So they tossed him into an empty pit, and they discussed how they were going to murder him. Until one brother, Judah, proposed to sell him into slavery; & then whatever happened after that wouldn’t be their fault. So, the last they saw of him, he was bound up like a piece of property, being carted off to Egypt with Ishmaelite merchants. ‘Good riddance.’
As a strong young man, Joseph was put to work as a servant in the home of a rich Egyptian, Potiphar. Potiphar’s wife was constantly after him, in a lustful way. But even as a teen, Joseph had godly character & honor, & didn’t give in. How dare he turn her down! So she lied & accused him. Twice innocent, & twice rejected. How could that be God’s plan for him? He went from having father & family to losing his freedom & reputation; he lost everything.
Well, …not everything. Altho he was languishing in prison, he makes friends with those around him, and he makes use of his God-given ability to interpret their dreams according to the wisdom of the faith. He pleads with them that -with his advice- as they are released from prison & back into the Pharaoh’s service, that they would put in a good word for him.
But they don’t. Was that still God’s plan? == to be /forgotten, /forsaken, /abandoned, /his character crucified; /the prison might as well have been a tomb. Two long years pass as his faith waits.
As the third year begins, something happens. Suddenly Joseph finds himself standing in front of Pharaoh himself, the most powerful man in the world, and God’s gift makes him indispensable. Pharaoh’s dream means that there will be seven good years as time to prepare food for the seven bad years to come. As Egypt needs someone to put a food program into place, who better than Joseph == the one to whom the God-of-dreams speaks.
About 8 years pass; and who should come a-knockin’ on Egypt’s door but those 10 brothers, desperate for bread for their father & families. If it wasn’t for them, Joseph would not have suffered /the pit, /the servitude, /the prison, /& being falsely labelled a molester & rapist. They threw him away, and ruined his life; and now they come begging for a favor?
But, what is Joseph’s view? Clear faith. His brothers are not the power over his life, any more than he himself is. God is. So, with faith follows fruitful action. There is no question in Joseph’s mind, no ‘either-or’ decision between ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the scale of justice. There is only ‘yes’. There is mercy; undeserved, full & overflowing; there is salvation. That’s why God put him where he was, even tho it was a hard road to get there. “You needn’t fear me,” Joseph says. “I’ll take care of you. What you did, you meant for evil, but God, He meant it for good. God sent me here to preserve life,” Joseph says, “not to take life away.”
It is important for us to know this whole story, because if we wish to stand in Joseph’s shoes & be so wise & confident, we have to remember ALL that hardship that calloused his feet & refined his faith. Joseph’s life looked good now, covered in robes, but years of being rejected, homeless, mistreated as a slave & prisoner, he would’ve had scars, wounds & injuries, physical & emotional. Some things he suffered were out of his control; other things were because he controlled his behavior & obeyed God’s right ways & people hated him. But now he could see how he began as a spoiled child who thought he held the world in his hand, to becoming an instrument for life in the God’s hand.
Perhaps a lesson for us is this: If you wish ‘to know’ -in the way Joseph knows- to know God’s plan for you, to stand in his shoes & see how all things make sense, …
be prepared to see how God will use some illogical, weird, & complicated things to work something good. And the word ‘good’, in God’s view, will include things the world doesn’t understand as ‘good’. Years of struggle enabled Joseph to see, with faith, & confidence, & with honor; only then did he fully trust God who was holding the steering wheel of his life.
Our culture would’ve encouraged Joseph to claim victimhood. There’s nothing wrong with seeking justice when you’ve been wronged. But who is supposed to ‘pay’ when ‘life’ is unfair, or when your life doesn’t have as many good things as others have? Yes, people let Joseph down. But Joseph chose to wait patiently for the day when God’s plan & good will would be revealed to him. And don’t we see that response of faith & character throughout Holy Scripture?
So finally, why would there be so many examples of this strong & patient faith in God’s Bible? Because with Joseph’s tough life, and with yours, we are reminded of another man who was despised by His brothers; who was the favorite Son of the Father. He entered the pit, being despised & rejected, and was a man of sorrows & familiar with grief. Jesus had His honor lied about, and His righteousness publicly crucified =along with the rest of him. He had all the power in the world to give death; instead, He is giving us undeserved life. Jesus came to offer mercy and not revenge for the guilty, and those seeking mere bread are receiving the treasures of heaven.
Joseph’s life was more than his own; he was expected to reflect the Savior Jesus.
We are, too. We have received grace-upon-grace, and as we have been forgiven, so now we are to live thankfully, and forgive others. This is God’s clear plan for you. And like Joseph, you can be confident in that.
God has called you to be His own, washed you to be clean and clothed you, renamed you, and has given you His own Spirit so that you will stand in this faith and to walk in His honorable ways. You are no longer a victim & slave to sin. God has raised you up to a new life; and no matter what your old wounds, you are inheriting a kingdom and a victory that can not be taken away. The Lord strengthen your trust in His plan and give you patience each day until that day when your story ends here, and begins brand new in His eternal kingdom.
(and if that makes some sense to you, let me hear you say: ‘Amen.’)