But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?
Section One (Parsha Debrief):
This week’s parsha contained: Joseph’s oath to Jacob, Jacob elevating Joseph’s sons as his own, Jacob blessing Joseph’s sons, Jacob blessing all his sons, Jacob’s burial parade, and sibling dealings after Jacob’s death.
In the Midweek Reading Guide, we noted that as part of the family, the entire Book of Genesis is our first lesson. Also, we talked about remembering God’s overarching narrative so that as we close Genesis we can recognize this Book is so much more than a mere history lesson.
The Book of Genesis is the true life of the family of God. Through fear, or desire, or attempts to control situations the members of this family deceive each other and others — rather than being straight, open, and vulnerable.
As readers, we learn as the family of God learns. We witness Jacob learn to be straight with God and man — as if the end of his wrestling match is an altar moment, his time of confession (see footnote #1). Immediately following his confession Jacob is open and vulnerable with his brother Esau, an encounter filled with — weeping, kissing, and embrace — reconciliation.
Vulnerability is key to reconciling a.k.a. putting the world back together a.k.a. shalom.
As we noted (here), early in the reunion of brothers, Joseph had a chance to be vulnerable and open; instead, he hid his emotions. It prolonged the eventual weeping, kissing, and embrace we discussed last week.
To wrap all this up, the Book of Genesis closes with eyes on the future. For example, we get details of Jacob’s burial procession marching from Egypt up to the promise land. Also, Joseph tells his brothers God will certainly come to your aid and bring you up from this land to the land He promised (Genesis 50:24b). Having a glimpse of the future is always necessary for hope. But, that vision of the future is built on standing stones of the past. Like the Nation of Israel, we can’t trust in a liberated future without remembering who and where God has been.
Our parsha Text is connected to two future Texts and quoted by Rabbis in two future midrash — Exodus 13:19 and Numbers 2:2.
Through these midrash and accompanying commentaries, Rabbis highlight the importance of remembering.
Rashi on Genesis 50:12-13 and Numbers 2:2,
as he had commanded them: What was it that he had commanded them?- [What the Torah elaborates in the following verse.]
And his sons carried him: [Jacob] designated a position for them [by his coffin], [so that] three [of them would carry] on the east, and so on for [all] four directions. [This was] similar to their arrangement in the traveling of the camp [in the desert] of the groupings [of the tribes as] they were designated here… That is the meaning of “Each one according to his group with signs” (Num. 2:2), according to the sign that their father gave them to carry his coffin.
– [From Tanchuma Bamidbar 12]
Rabbi Haim Sabato on Genesis 50:25 and Exodus 13:19,
Our sages tell us that two containers led the Israelites during their [40 years of] travels in the wilderness: the Ark of the Covenant, and the casket holding Joseph’s bones… The Ark of the Covenant leading the procession designates the Torah as the guide, along with new interpretations of it, for every beit midrash brings new understanding. Joseph’s bones traveling alongside the Ark signifies the traditions of the households, the previous generations.
-Rest for the Dove
Rabbi Sabato concludes his d’var Torah saying, remembrance is what secures [us] in exile, and remembrance is what leads to redemption.
We’ll add to that; true peace comes when we remember who and where God has been.
Section Two (Connection to NT + haftarah):
The connected Luke Text (4:1-13) has Jesus quoting from Deuteronomy. It seems like the author of Luke wants readers to know that the themes in Deuteronomy are connected to the conclusion of Genesis and are relevant to what Jesus is experiencing.
What theme could be so broad-sweeping to connect and relate across so much Text?
The theme of remembering — remembering who’s still on the throne.
In fact, the subtitle in my translation recognizes that Deuteronomy 8 is about remembering the Lord. Deuteronomy 8 recounts the Israelites’ 40 years in the wilderness, in which… God led them the entire journey (Deuteronomy 8:2). It seems beyond coincidence, that here we are in the Luke Text with Jesus quoting the last book of Torah in which God is preparing Israel to enter the long awaited promise land; and, it’s paired with the closing of Genesis which is also focused the future promise land.
Moreover, as M.D. Goulder points out, the author of Luke pivots Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness to this spot, immediately after the genealogy. As if, to make certain the reader (or hearer) has to go through the genealogy and remember all the forebears, all the generations, all the lessons, all the wisdom… right before they witness Jesus responding to temptation by quoting the passages in the Text that are about remembering.
Be careful that you don’t forget the Lord your God by failing to keep His command—the ordinances and statutes—I am giving you today. When you eat and are full, and build beautiful houses to live in, and your herds and flocks grow large, and your silver and gold multiply, and everything else you have increases, be careful that your heart doesn’t become proud and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.
Pride is an attempt to sit in the seat of the Divine, to assume control.
Interestingly enough, Jesus also quotes from Deuteronomy 6 — a chapter that also focuses on remembering.
At the close of Genesis, Joseph reminds the House of Israel:
God will certainly come to your aid and bring you up from this land to the land He promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
At the close of Torah, Moses reminds the Nation of Israel:
be careful not to forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.
In Luke, Jesus’ three quotes remind the Jewish-Gentile church:
That God is still seated on the throne of the Divine. That God is provider. Trust that, don’t test it.
It’s as if the author of Luke is forcing the 1st century church, and us, to notice that God still wants us to remember so that we can overcome the obstacles to come — like exile, like fear, like pride.
Specifically, to remember…
…these words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Come on! Deuteronomy 6 even explicitly says, when your son asks you in the future… tell him... (Deuteronomy 6:20-25).
The author of Luke, uses Jesus’ reminders as a reminder. The Text is endlessly connected, but it’s the experiences with God that are to be told and retold.
We need both the inspired lessons of the Text, and forebears that walk the path well. Because, true peace comes when we remember who and where God has been — and, that God is still seated on the throne, not us.
Section Three (missing the mark) and Section Four (real-world applications):
Instead of directly challenging the clergy this week, I’m offering a cry for help.
I need more authentic, vulnerable, and open church leaders in my life. I need more church leaders willing to openly admit where they are pretending.
I need church leadership modeling confession and repentance. Especially, in this season of reflection as we prepare to re-encounter the Christ child.
I’ll start. I confess I’m scared, I’m afraid.
Times are changing for the better. Women are pursuing and experiencing liberation. The next generation of daughters who become wives and mothers will not settle for historic gender roles. I am married to this wife and parenting with this mother. Yet, I am not equipped to be this husband or father.
I confess, I continually battle conflicting narratives. I confess, I can’t balance being a successful dad, a successful husband, a successful analyst, a successful homemaker, and a successful blogger.
I confess, I’ve tried to do this all alone and have held tightly to my idea of what is the right way.
I confess, I need true peace.
I don’t need someone’s Insta life being told on the pulpit. I need someone who models the vulnerability it takes be liberated from fear and led to true peace.
I was highly functioning as a single adult navigating a doctoral program. I am just as capable of doing everything needed as a single parent when my wife is out of town. But, my therapist says, when my wife and I are together I resort to family expectations I am more familiar and comfortable with. That is, I have underlying expectations for our family to function like the home I grew up in…
My mom is a boss. She went to an all- women’s college, but didn’t study homemaking. She went on to get a masters degree in special education. She taught full-time for 30+ years. In the later years, her income positioned her as the breadwinner. Yet, she also grocery shopped, cooked, cleaned, and did laundry. This isn’t to dismiss my dad. He commuted ~2 hours round trip to work daily. And, somehow he still coached my whole youth baseball career, took me to all my evening youth soccer practices, and was home in time for all my high school wrestling matches. He also showed up in support and embrace every single time I found myself in trouble. He was fully present.
But, we’re in a new era. And, as much as the church is slowly dragging its feet to the idea of God’s femininity, it doesn’t recognize or equip marriages for equitable family life. In fact, the church subtly, if not explicitly, reinforces that homemaking is the woman’s role. As a consequence, I face conflicting internal narratives of how to be a God-fearing father, a loving husband, a successful thought leader, and make sure dinner is on the table so us hangry folk don’t burn the place down.
I struggle in our marriage because I don’t see many Christian parents modeling how this new family is supposed to function.
My wife’s potential earnings based on her degree level and career focus will never match my potential career earnings. Does that make it okay for me to pursue my career over her pursuing hers? Who parents? Who focuses on career? Who brings order to the chaos of our tiny apartment? Who’s time is more valuable? Is there space for a dual pursuit of careers?
I’m crippled by these internalized questions and tensions. I need help.
I need to see the notion of co-parenting practiced more in church leadership.
In the few young families we know — the wives are mostly working moms. Even so, those young families still maintain the historic gender roles involved in parenting and homemaking. In the older Christian marriages around us I hear the wives talk about all the things they still have to do this holiday season… as if the home and all that goes with it is still a woman’s role.
Maybe those families have well agreed upon roles that just happen to fall along historic gender roles. That’s fine. The point is, where is my example of a Jesus following father who is modeling the new family dynamics I find myself in? One in which parenting and homemaking are expected to be shared responsibilities. Roles I gladly and willingly accept, but have no map for how to steer.
Come on church. Where are you?
In Section One and Two, we talked about the importance of handing down lessons from generation to generation — both traditions and new interpretations. Well, my generation of Jesus following fathers needs models.
In fact, we all need forebears so that we can be handed wisdom to remember. We need to remember, because it helps us chart our paths of righteousness. It’s our beit midrash!
We need both forebears that walk the path well, and the inspired lessons of the Text.
As only God can orchestrate, an inspired lesson shows up in this week’s Torah portion.
But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?
– Genesis 50:19
Don’t be afraid? I’m terrified. I don’t know how to control the new situations or steer this new family.
Thankfully God recognizes how scary uncertainty can be and reminds us… we’re not supposed to play the role of the Divine. We are supposed to confess and start a new journey with a looser grip on the steering wheel of expectations and comforts and desires. We are invited to start a journey toward liberation. A journey that ultimately leads to true peace.
My new journey — the new family — begins with vulnerability. Something I feared because the church made confession at the altar a place of judgement and condemnation. It’s supposed to be a place of forgiveness. There’s liberation in knowing that. There’s hope in knowing that. There’s joy in knowing that.
I pray over you the same prayer that was recently prayed for me…
I pray for your own journey. For vulnerability. And for a realization that you are safe, loved, and accepted enough by the people [and God] that matter. You’ve got very little to lose as you become the person God is wanting you to be.
This Advent — this week — remember that prayer for true peace, because this is true life.
Next Week’s Readings: Exodus 1:1-6:1; Luke 4:14-30
- Watch this sermon for more on the altar, confession, and joy that leads to repentance.