By David Baumann
A Reading from Genesis 37:1-11
1 Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. 2 This is the story of the family of Jacob.
Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. 4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.
5 Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed. 7 There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” 8 His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.
9 He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, “Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, “What kind of dream is this that you have had? Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?” 11 So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
Today, we would call such families as Joseph’s “dysfunctional”; for that matter, so were the families of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Saul, David, Absalom, Solomon, etc., etc. In these families we see habitual and even hereditary dysfunction — perhaps better called “sin.” We are told that Joseph’s brothers — 10 of them — “hated” Joseph, and that they “envied” him. We are told that Jacob “loved Joseph more than all his children.” When parental love fails for any reason, as when children are set in a preferential order, the damage done is deep and permanent. Joseph had to have been aware of his favored status, which may have made the telling of his dreams part of a pattern of routinely demonstrated smug superiority. We can imagine the tension in that family must have been unrelieved and intense throughout all of Joseph’s 17 years.
Nevertheless, the dreams revealed truth: they anticipated the time when Joseph would be the ruler of Egypt and his brothers and parents would bow before him. Of course even Joseph couldn’t have predicted that at the time; he could only have received the message that his family would bow to him. His likely acceptance of that message while still a youth and the predictable hostility its telling brought were heartbreaking.
For us, though, perhaps it can be comforting. Surely most of us have been given soul-hurts from dysfunction in our families of origin, and if we are parents, we have inflicted such hurts on our children. Even the best of families have such hurts just because we are sinners. And it is such as these that God calls, and through whom he works his blessings. It is a constant sign that God says, “I have called you, and even through your imperfection I will work my will.”
David Baumann served for nearly 50 years as an Episcopal priest in the Dioceses of Los Angeles and Springfield; he retired last year. He has published nonfiction, science fiction, and short stories. Two exuberant small daughters make sure he never gets any rest.
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The Diocese of Kigeme – Eglise Anglicane du Rwanda
The Diocese of Southeast Florida