'Joseph recognised his brothers, they did not recognise him.’ Genesis 42:8
Brothers and sisters, you don’t need to have watched Eastenders, to know that families have arguments, that often families end up separated and alienated from one another. No family is above petty squabbles and harsh words, not mine, not yours, and certainly not Joseph’s. Indeed, as we’ve seen Joseph’s family—which remember are meant to be God’s people—have gone to the extreme. Not many families have actually enacted a plan to kill one of its members —even if we have occasionally joked about it! God’s people need some serious family counselling. However, in the story, over the past few weeks Joseph’s family have been left behind. I wonder how they have been getting on? Well, it truly is a soap opera. It’s Coronation Street for ancient times. Family disfunction is rife, and it’s not just one person at fault—family problems rarely are—everyone in Joseph’s forgotten family has their own issues. This family is struggling just to survive! They—like the people around them—are struggling for food, but more than that they are struggling to be family at all. However, God has not finished with this family, and He will reconcile them by keeping His promises, ending their struggle for food, and bringing them to a place where they will finally be all together. ‘When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, ‘Why do you just keep looking at each other?’ 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.’ Salvation, this time, is found in Egypt, and so to Egypt God’s people must go. Jacob unknowingly sends some of God’s people to where God wants them to be. Notice, though, that human sin is still getting in the way, for Jacob will not go, and—still playing favourites—will not let Benjamin go. And so God’s people are not all together in safety and are still separated. Though the dream (of chapter 37) looks like it is about to be fulfilled, human sin delays the moment even further.
Now, It’s a bit early in the year, perhaps but bear with me. In ‘A Christmas Carol’ the character of Scrooge is fascinating, not least in the way he changes. The suffering he goes through—the ups-and-downs of his ghostly adventure—ensure that by the end of the book he is quite a different person from who he was at the beginning. He is transformed from being miserly and miserable, to being generous and cheerful! We’ve seen something like that going on with Joseph over the story so far. Joseph is no longer an immature boy. We’ve seen him become a wise and God-fearing man. Joseph has become a person who doesn’t trumpet his own achievements but in humility points all those around him to God. Like Scrooge, Joseph has changed, and changed for the better. But Joseph still isn’t the man he is called to become. Joseph—still true to the dream—tries to ensure that all of his brothers come to Egypt, but the way he goes about it, seems to be… well, rather harsh: holding his brothers in prison, and hiding money and expensive cups in their bags. I think, though, part of this harshness is a testing, I don’t think Joesph has reverted to type, I think he has actually changed. Joseph wants to see if his brothers have changed and whether—when push comes to shove—they will put others above themselves, so he comes up with a plan. The plan is elaborate and takes some telling, so you’ll have to read it through on your own…and it is well worth the read (see chapters 42-44). In summary, by the end of Genesis 44, it is clear that his brothers have changed, and finally he has all of his brothers in one place. Next week, we’ll see what happens afterwards, but today I want us to focus instead on the failings of Joseph.
Why didn’t Joseph go and search for his family? Why didn’t Joseph go and tell his grieving father that he was alive. Why didn’t Joseph himself ensure the dream God had sent him—of his family bowing down—came true? Has Joseph allowed the promotion and the comfortable life which has come with it to make him forget the dream God had given him? We can only imagine and speculate. But certainly Joseph—who in his actions has so often pointed to Jesus—in this regard is in contrast to Jesus. This promised one stays at home rather than going to search for his family. Jesus, on the other hand acts in exactly the opposite way. What would Jesus have done in Joseph’s shoes? What is Jesus like in His character and concern for His family, and for all those who are lost? Well He tells us Himself, in our Gospel reading (Luke 15:1-8): ‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?’ Jesus in Joseph’s shoes would have found his family! He wouldn’t have sent an army, He wouldn’t have sent a servant, Jesus would have gone Himself. In order to ensure that God’s plan for a united and reconciled family came to fruition Jesus the Good Shepherd would have gone Himself to look for the sheep. How do we know? Because He did! The Son left his blessed place in heaven, and came to earth in search of the lost sheep. The Promised One—the Son, who was named Jesus at His birth—went after the missing Jewish sheep, and the missing non-Jewish sheep who were not yet in His family, so that the whole family of God, might be reconciled and live together in harmony and safety. Joseph did none of those things, but Jesus did them all. As He reaches out, Jesus offers reconciliation, He offers forgiveness, and offers a place at His table by His death on the cross. You—if you’re not yet a part of the Christian family—are a lost sheep and Jesus has come looking for you, because He longs for you to join the family. Jesus offers you a family of lost sheep, a family of those who have made mistakes and often keep on making mistakes, but it is the family He dreamt of; it is the family He died for; and it is in this family that Jesus has a place reserved just for you. Today, and every day, the elder brother of the family searches for you and—offering you his nail-pierced hand—invites you home. Will you take up His offer?
For those of us who were found by Jesus before today, Jesus has us join Him in His search for the rest of the family, and on finding them, to invite them to come home. How can you do that this week? Perhaps, it is to be reconciled to someone you are estranged from. Perhaps for you, there are no obvious broken relationships, but not everyone you know is part of Jesus’ family and you can invite them to get to know Jesus. Perhaps for you, you’ve already said those things and invited people to Church and it has been rejected. Perhaps then for you, you need to seek to serve those Jesus loves and—coupled with prayer—offer those who are still lost a loving example which might soften their hearts. Whatever it is for you, whether it is reconciliation, a spoken word or a visible act of love Jesus is calling you to go out with Him and find the lost sheep. Whomever you are, then, whether a lost sheep who is home or a lost sheep that still out in the wilderness, Jesus is searching for you—or searching with you—and is the brother Joesph should have been. Let Jesus soften your heart, and work through you, so that all of God’s family might sit at His table and in His family forever. Amen. (from Fr Mike).