Joseph, having been betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery, Joseph has now earned the respect of Pharaoh, and suddenly risen to power as chief overseer of Egypt. In today’s passage, he encounters his brothers again, this time with them coming to Egypt to beg for grain. The famine has hit the land hard, and Egypt is in a better position because of Joseph and his help in planning.
When he meets his brothers, he keeps his identity a secret, but recognizes them. They lie to him by omitting some information about their brother Joseph by saying, “We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of a certain man in the land of Canaan; the youngest, however is now with our father, and one is no more.”
In a twist of irony, Joseph accuses them of being spies and throws them into jail. The irony: it is he who spies on them. He also makes them relive his own uncertainty and helplessness when he was sold as a slave by making them slaves.
He demands to see the youngest brother, now Benjamin, who has safely been left behind in Canaan. This is a standard practice of progeny. If the brothers do not return back, for whatever reason, Jacob’s blood line will die. It is a safety net of God’s promise of progeny. For Joseph to demand all the brothers means the whole family is in jeopardy. Much more faith is required to send the last brother, than all the others.
Amidst the self-disguise and intrigue, amidst the anguish and helplessness, God comes to us this morning and speaks of the world upside-down. The tables are turned. The first shall be last, and the last first. This passage is yet another testament to the fact that God’s choices are not always human’s choice. Joseph, who was thrown away by his family, turns out to be very valuable to Egypt, and to God’s purposes.
If there is one word that comes from this text for me today it is: bankruptcy. Only when the sons of Jacob are completely emotionally and economically bankrupt is God’s grace able to move in their lives. Only when they come down a few notches do they come to realize the importance of knowing and honoring others. If they were in a 12 Step group, their imprisonment would be called rock bottom, and they would be ready for Step 1.
What will it take for us to enter into the irony of God’s graces?