words of my mouth

Pentecost X

Genesis 37:1-4, 12:28    Matthew 14:22-33

Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob. 

Today we’re hearing a story about Jacob’s dysfunctional family. All of us know this one, about Jacob’s favourite son Joseph and his multicoloured coat. Joseph emerges as the hero, who, though mistreated by his brothers, triumphs with the help of the Lord. But, we seldom ask what exactly Joseph did to make his brothers hate him.

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.

Joseph isn’t quite the innocent we’re often led to believe. He is Rachel’s son and thus he is the favoured, pampered son of a favourite and pampered wife. Right here at the beginning of his story we learn that he brings a bad report of his brothers to their father, or, to put it another way, he’s a tattle tale. No one likes a tattle tale. And then we learn that: 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.

Suddenly we have an entirely new look at Joseph. He’s spoiled! His father has gone so far as to have a coat made for him “a long robe with sleeves” or a many-coloured coat – a robe such as was worn only by royalty. We can imagine tattletale Joseph strutting around in his royal coat. When you come right down to it, Joseph sounds like a real pain in the neck. No wonder his brothers can’t stand him. 

And Israel said to Joseph. . . Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me." 

Interestingly, between leaving his father to seek his brothers and finding them, Joseph encounters a dilemma. He thinks his brothers are at Shechem, but is unable to locate them. Then a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, "What are you seeking?" "I am seeking my brothers," he said; "tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock." The man said, "They have gone away, for I heard them say, `Let us go to Dothan.'”

Omitted from today’s lesson in verses 5 -11 are Joseph’s two dreams, which are interpreted as showing that his brothers and his parents will bow down to him. So when he at last finds his brothers and they say, “Here comes this dreamer,” they aren’t talking about a young man with his head in the clouds. Joseph has bragged to his brothers about these dreams, and for them that’s been the final straw. A spoiled child who tells them some day they will all bow down to him? The brothers are so angry they are ready to kill their own sibling.

Ruben intervenes. Instead of killing Joseph, the brothers settle on throwing him into a pit. Used to collect water during the rainy season, but normally dry toward the end of summer, these pits, or cisterns, were common in the ancient world. When empty, they were often used to hold prisoners, so when the opportunity presents itself, Joseph’s brothers hurriedly dump him into such a pit, and then sell him off into slavery in Egypt.

In an instant Joseph’s life has changed from luxury, from being the spoiled and pampered son, the beloved, the apple of his parents’ eyes, to darkness and storm, a life of slavery. We can imagine that Joseph must have been terrified as he was taken away to the unknown life of a slave, his world totally shattered.

There is something, however, we are likely to miss in today’s story, and that is Joseph’s brief encounter with the man at Shechem, a person Hebrew interpretation often takes to be an angel of God. If this brief encounter had not happened, Joseph might never have found his brothers so that God’s providence could unfold in salvation history. It is the stranger’s directions, the directions given by an angel, that have made it possible for Joseph to be torn from life as he knew it, and to be sent on to do God’s work in this world.

Interesting thought to ponder. What have we learned from what we are going through right now with the pandemic, as our lives have been turned upside-down? Have we taken stock of ourselves? Have we pondered and prayed about what God might want us to do, to change, to be more the person He is calling us to be? Though we don’t like it, God’s blessings often come through suffering. Are we making the most of what is happening in our lives right now, this day?

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, Jesus was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.

Jesus has urged the disciples to take to their boat, most likely to avoid the popular enthusiasm which has followed the miracle of the loaves and fishes. But, the Sea of Galilee is shallow, and storms arise rapidly. The boat is a familiar and secure place for these men who had, up until they met Jesus, worked as fishermen. They know boats and they know the Sea of Galilee, and they know the power and fury of these unexpected storms. From being a safe haven, the boat has become an unsteady and uncertain refuge, and they have no choice but to cower in it and hope they can ride out the storm.

And early in the morning Jesus came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out in fear.

In the situation they’re in, fearing for their lives, an apparent apparition coming toward them walking on the water is bound to scare the disciples out of their wits. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." 

Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." Jesus said, "Come."

To his credit, Peter is willing to accept that what he hears may be Jesus’ voice. But Peter isn’t certain. Lord, if it is you . . . 

Peter wants desperately to walk that short distance to Jesus’ side, but it’s not an easy thing to do, and it’s made even more difficult because of the storm raging around him. We know times like this, times when everything seems to be in turmoil, times we aren’t even sure if Jesus is there, times like the present. Peter puts his foot out of the boat.

So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and began to sink.

And Peter called out, "Lord, save me!"

And Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him. 

Our first thoughts are of Peter’s faith as he stepped out of the boat, and of how we often do the same, step out in faith, only to, like Peter, falter and need our Lord to reach out and save us. But then Jesus adds this question, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”  

Jesus ask Peter why his faith faltered, but perhaps He is not asking Peter why he didn’t have more faith after he left the boat. Perhaps Jesus is asking Peter why he wanted to go walking on the water in the first place, when he could have trusted Jesus to take care of the storm and stayed in the boat.

We know the temptation to be the hero, and we know how difficult it is to just sit by, safe in the boat. Not only do we long to be the hero, we long to get out of the boat and just do something! Many of us feel that way right now. A storm has blown up in our lives, in the world, and we have been told to lockdown and stay in the boat. We really don’t like that. We want to do something, and we desperately want to return to “the old normal”.

 I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, *
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him. 
Psalm 85:8

 Now, more than ever, we need to trust Jesus. As Joseph learned through his suffering, we are called to learn through what we are experiencing now. And like Peter we are called to have faith – faith that Jesus will settle the storm. Our work right now involves learning to rely on Jesus, to do what we can in the boat, while we wait on Him and for that time to come when the storm has passed and our lives are again calm.

Let us Pray:

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light rises up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what you would have us do, the courage to love and trust you completely, that in your light we may see light, and in your straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen