At first glance, it seems unlikely that this little story, rooted in a culture lost over millennia, could speak to us. However, there are plenty of messages for individuals and churches as the story of Joseph unfolds.
Following rejection and suffering caused by jealous brothers, escapades worthy of any adventure-book hero, and a prolonged, forced absence from family, Joseph now has a high-profile, high-office position in Pharaoh’s palace, where he is trusted, respected and known as an excellent listener. His family however, has hit some very hard times, and finally make their way to Joseph, looking for help.
Joseph welcomes them with open arms, is not ashamed of his relations and introduces them to his boss. One feature of this period was the importance of family, and here we see family love enduring beyond challenges that we in today’s culture might consider insurmountable. Joseph doesn’t only welcome them, he works with Pharaoh to provide them with a good place to live, and Pharaoh offers them some shepherding work with his own flock.
When Joseph’s father, Jacob is introduced, Pharaoh accepts blessings from him and asks his age – indicating respect for the older generation – even though Jacob suggests that, at a mere 130, he is relatively young!
What message does all this hold for modern-day discipleship and Church? Joseph cared for his brothers in their time of trouble regardless of what had gone before. He didn’t take decisions on his own; instead he discussed and managed the choices, ensuring that Pharaoh agreed with every idea – he was an excellent listener. Both Joseph and Pharaoh respected immediate, and extended, family, deferring to the older generation. Together they ensured the ongoing care of a displaced group of people and their extended families.
Today’s Western culture may not place so much emphasis on family ties, but 21st Century disciples and churches (whether new expressions, or traditional) are called to offer unconditional hospitality, listening, welcome and care as they serve the neediest people.