Through Mirrors Dimly

Scripture Focus: Genesis 42.8
8 Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him.

Reflection: Through Mirrors Dimly
By Erin Newton

This chapter opens with the next saga in Joseph’s life, the reunion with his brothers. It is a long story with many twists and turns. If Joseph’s life were a movie, the tagline would be: “What you meant for evil, God has meant for good” (Genesis 50.20).

Joseph was abused by his brothers. They tried to kill him but settled for having him sold into slavery. He was wrongfully accused and imprisoned. Joseph, however, rose to a place of authority in Egypt and his brothers, unknowingly, came to him to seek mercy.

Joseph was a blessing in disguise. He wasn’t in a real disguise; his brothers simply didn’t recognize him. Now grown older, they had graying hair and aged faces. Despite their long separation, Joseph could recognize his brothers. So, it is more likely that God prevented the brothers from recognizing him.

Here is something good, life-giving in fact, but they are blind to it. The brothers cling to hope that the man before them will be merciful. Their vision is muddled, like seeing through a mirror dimly.

What makes this story intriguing is the vantage point we have as readers. We know who the man is, we know it is their brother. If we’ve read this story before, we know it ends with joy.

But we never have that vantage point in our own lives. We are blind to how God will make all things work together for our good. We only feel the pain of our suffering, the sting of desperation. Like the brothers, we are taking steps in faith and worrying about every new crisis.

God was still working in Joseph’s story and the big reveal took much longer than we’d hope in this chapter. (We are a bit prone to demanding instant gratification, in stories and in our lives.)

We see through a mirror dimly, partial vision of God’s greater plan.

When the shadows tempt us to despair, let us pray:
Lord, you see us in the darkest of places where everything seems impossible. We need a way out, but every door is shut. Let us cling to the truth that you sent Joseph to store grain for his brothers, seven years before they ever knew they needed it. Our lives are as precious as those. Let us step in faith knowing you have stored up provision before we knew to call on you.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but stands fast forever.
The hills stand about Jerusalem; so does the Lord stand round about his people, from this time forth forevermore.
The scepter of the wicked shall not hold sway over the land allotted to the just, so that they just shall not put their hands to evil. — Psalm 125.1-3

Today’s Readings
Genesis 42 (Listen 5:08
Matthew 3 (Listen 2:17)

Read more about Vengeance, Arrogance, and Partiality
May we find in Jesus forgiveness to replace our vengeance, humility to replace our arrogance, and justice to replace our partiality.

Read more about Treasure in Our Sacks
We underestimate God’s generosity. Like Joseph, Jesus doesn’t accept our payments, he suffered and made our payment in full.

Marks of Leadership — Selflessness

Scripture Focus: Genesis 42.1-2; 18-24
1 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.” 

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 on 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 came back and spoke to them again. He had Simeon taken from them and bound before their eyes. 

Reflection: Marks of Leadership — Selflessness
By John Tillman

For a bunch of grown men who felt threatened by their 17-year-old brother’s visions of leadership, Joseph’s older brothers don’t seem to exhibit much. 

Jacob chides them for “standing around looking at one another” instead of doing something about the crisis of the famine. The brothers seem to be paralyzed by crisis and selfishness. No one wants to be the one to take responsibility. Everyone is “looking at one another” seeking to shift blame.

The brothers don’t exactly have a history of great decisions or good leadership. They bicker, blame one another, and claim, “I told you so,” when things go badly in Egypt. 

Joseph tells the brothers directly that he is testing them but we don’t know the intended extent of that test or what was in Joseph’s mind at that time. Perhaps Joseph only intended to manipulate them to see his full brother, Benjamin. Perhaps he intended to keep Benjamin to save him from the brothers who he remembered as abusive and sinful traitors. Perhaps he only wanted to see their reactions to his threat, similarly to Solomon’s test in which he threatened a baby’s life to discover who truly loved the child. (1 Kings 3.25-27)

These failed leaders grow over the next few chapters. They grow in compassion. They grow in unity. They grow in the capacity for self-sacrifice. But the most symbolic moment which shows growth in selfless sacrifice came when Judah offered himself to Joseph as a slave in Benjamin’s place.

Judah was the one who proposed selling Joseph into slavery in the first place. He selfishly and vengefully sold Joseph into slavery because Jacob loved Joseph more than him. But in a dramatic and emotional speech, the slave-seller offered himself in slavery to save Benjamin and spare his father further pain. This action may be why Joseph made his decision to trust the brothers with his identity. 

Jacob’s sons all grow in leadership through suffering and emotional trials. Tests of leadership are almost always connected to selflessness. Humility, compassion, empathy, and service should flow from selflessness. Pride, stubbornness, greed, and lust stop up the stream.

Trials, famines, pandemics, insurrections, and conflicts have come and will continue to come. In this world, we will have trouble.

May we, no matter the trouble we face, allow the Holy Spirit to remove things that block the flow of selflessness. Especially in crises, we need selfless leadership.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
For the Lord God is both sun and shield; he will give grace and glory;
No good thing will the Lord withhold from thse who walk with integrity.
O Lord of hosts, happy are they who put their trust in your! — Psalm 84.10-12

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 42 (Listen – 5:08) 
Mark 12 (Listen – 6:10)

Read more about Abimelek, Caesar, and Jesus
It is in serving that we will lead.
It is in suffering that we will conquer.
It is in dying that we will live.

Read more about Seeking God’s Servant
God’s servant is different than expected of a king or worldly leader. This servant will not shout…will not use violence…will be led by God in seeking out righteous justice.

Setting a New Standard

Mark 10.15-17
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

Reflection: Setting a New Standard
By John Tillman

Many scholars believe that Jesus cleansed the temple of buyers and sellers repeatedly—every time he visited Jerusalem. The slight variance of accounts in scripture imply this. This interpretation also fits with the way that Jesus consistently attacked the cultural religious institutions that were slanted to benefit the powerful, the rich, and the politically connected. This included redefining his society’s concept of marriage.

In yesterday’s reading, Jesus stated views on marriage more strict than the most conservative religious sects of his day. Jesus reset the standard from “Moses allowed” to “God made.” In doing so, he stripped the power from husbands to dissolve their marriages for any reason.

Jesus made a distinction between what Moses allowed and what God desired. He described the law about divorce, which Moses wrote, as a concession to the hard-heartedness of people who were too selfish and unloving to live according to God’s original design. This teaching on marriage was so extreme that his own disciples despaired of marrying due to the harshness of his teaching, saying, “If this is the situation…it is better not to marry.

Jesus both affirms the deep, spiritual purpose of marriage as God’s original design for humanity, while rejecting the culture that had twisted marriage into a power play.

No matter what culture’s moving needle says is moral, what matters to Jesus is God’s design. In this Jesus continues to demand greater righteousness than that can be attained under the law. The gospel is that he also provides that righteousness

We are no less selfish and no more loving today than the people to whom Moses gave the law. We too are stiff-necked and hard-hearted. Sin wreaks havoc in more than just marriages. Our economy is driven by coveting. Our industries profit from lust and market accordingly. The laws of our governments show that concessions must be made for our brokenness, our lusts, our lack of wisdom, our rejection of self-control, our addiction to violence, and our never-ending covetousness.

In our brokenness, we need not despair at Christ’s harshest teachings. Jesus rejected the morally compromised thinking of his culture, while at the same time welcoming into his fellowship those in clear violation of what he taught.

May we humbly welcome all whom Christ calls. Whosoever they are. Whatsoever their sin. . .
May we humbly welcome all that Christ offers: critique and correction, leading ultimately to communion.

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
When my mind became embittered, I was sorely wounded in my heart.
I was stupid and had no understanding; I was like a brute beast in your presence.
Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.
You will guide me by your counsel, and afterwards receive me with glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you? And having you I desire nothing upon earth. — Psalm 21-25

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 41 (Listen – 7:30) 
Mark 11 (Listen – 3:59)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 42 (Listen – 5:08), Mark 12 (Listen – 6:10)
Genesis 43 (Listen – 5:02), Mark 13 (Listen – 4:32)

Read more about It’s In The Bible
We need to read our culture—not just live in it— seeking guidance to understand what is considered acceptable to the world, but is not acceptable to God.

Read more about In Praise of Christ’s Righteousness
We cannot save ourselves. Praise God.
God specifically tells Ezekiel that not even the greatest, most righteous men he might trust in would be able to save the nation.