DAY 6 – Genesis 12-13; Job 1-2; Proverbs 1: 1-7
FAITHFULNESS NOT PERFECTION
As Fr Mike mentioned yesterday in his podcast, the action moves now from “the Early World” to “the Patriarchs.” First with Abraham, – who Jews, Christians, and Muslims all look to as “the Father of Faith.” For the Second Reading, we hear from the Book of Job (which is considered one of the most challenging of scripture, simply because of the subject matter: the problem of suffering) and then we finish up with words of truth from Proverbs.
Listening to the two opening salvos from Abraham and Job, the notion of God looking for “Faithfulness not perfection” is what came to mind. As Fr. Mike explained, Abram still suffers from the effects of brokenness. First passing off his wife as his sister because he fears the Egyptians (lack of trust in God’s plans) Not to mention there was disobedience from the outset. God had called Abram to go forward at the beginning of Chapter 12. He never said to bring his nephew Lot along for the journey. Was that fear again? Lack of trust on Abraham’s part that he could do what the Lord was asking? Just a few of many questions that will come up and re-emerge as we move forward. Some of the sufferings that Abraham will encounter will be a result of his own bad choices.
That won’t be the case with Job though… who suffers through absolutely no fault of his own.
In all cases though, what will be the response, reaction on the part of the men who encounter suffering? What will be our response?
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and knowledge.” Proverbs 1: 7
In other words – the first step is bowing down before the Lord – faithfulness, not perfection…
DAY 7 – Genesis 14 & 15; Job 3 & 4; Proverbs 1: 8-19
“I’VE GOT YOU” – God
As Fr Mike explains the covenant ritual of the “passing thru” the sacrificed animals – that those entering into this agreement were basically saying “if I don’t uphold to the agreement, let THIS happen to me” and remarkably in this covenant, God Himself passes thru, but Abram does not – the overwhelming sense I’m left with is that God is telling us “I’ve got you”
Even when you fall and fail –
not that I’m happy about that – nor do I think you CAN’T fulfill these promises… but seeing the mess that the brokenness of humanity finds itself from sin, from continuing to choose to sin – even in spite of that I’ve got you –
that’s called Mercy.
Juxtaposed with Job it’s an important reminder. Job has suffered unimaginable loss, pain, and destruction. And in Chapter 3 we hear his lament and then Chapter 4 one of his unhelpful friends pointing out dude you must’ve sinned… Yes, all sin results in suffering but not all suffering is the result of sin. Which we know to be the case for Job.
We’ve got aways to go for Job to get a response from God. But the God of Abraham is reaching out to Job and us to remind us –
not to fear
not to despair
not to lose heart
I’ve got you
DAY 8 – Genesis 16-17; Job 5-6; Proverbs 1: 20-33
NOT LOOKING FOR ANSWERS
Reading along with today’s readings about Abram (now Abraham) and Sarai (now Sarah) and Job – the words that came to mind from Fr Mike’s podcast – were “not looking for answers.”
If you’ve heard the scriptures you see that’s the exact opposite actually of what’s happening. Abraham has heard God’s promises to make him a great nation for some time. As he nears triple digits, he and Sarah decide to take matters into their own hands.
Job as he discusses his legitimate woes with his friend is trying to pinpoint what exactly did he do wrong to cause his life to get so upended. We know Job is right in insisting – nothing.
In both cases, as hard as it is, the temptation for them to want logic, reason, cause/effect to be clearly explained is denied to them. Abraham can’t help but wonder why couldn’t he be a biological father sooner, earlier when he and Sarah were younger. Job is in complete confusion. Ultimately when they stop looking for answers and learn to trust God, lean into that when there is a difficult path that is laid out or when there’s nothing but seeming silence… when we get to a place of not looking for answers, but simply for God – then we find our faith renewed, our trust is nourished – and we find we don’t need the answers – He alone suffices and is in fact more than enough.
DAY 9 – Genesis 18 & 19; Job 7 & 8; Proverbs 20: 1-5
DON’T LOOK BACK
Spoiler alert – as Fr Mike explains in today’s podcast, as we’ve been going through the book of Job, confronting the problem of Evil – one of the most disappointing things to people on their first read is a lack of a clear, definitive answer. Thousands of years later, Rabbi Kushner would write a book “Why do bad things happen to good people…” it still remains a mystery. So there will be a lot more to unpack and reflect on. But one lesson that came to mind from reading the distressing stories of Sodom and Gomorrah.
There was so much horrific stuff (rape, a father offering off his daughters instead… incest to name just three) that you might have forgotten the little detail, that wasn’t so little to her – Lots wife turning to a pillar of salt.
In comparison to everything else going on, it seems a bit of an overreaction. Although I suppose one could say Lot’s family had due warning and even got some time to prepare and deliberate with the angelic visitors so the obedience to God’s command should’ve been assured. But Lot’s wife, her infraction which resulted in her transformation was because she didn’t heed God’s command Don’t Look Back.
I remember reading an article that explained it like this: As human beings we live in three dimensions of time – or rather, we live in the present with a constant awareness of the past which is receding from us and the future which is approaching. As one is going away while the other is coming these dimensions of past and future have a profound effect on our perceptions and consciousness.
While it’s important to think about the past, especially to learn from it, the problem for most of humanity is that we can way too easily get stuck there. We can either idealize it to the point where we re-write history (When I was younger I was so much better at this, I had more energy, I had more interests) or we can get hung up on the negative things – (What we did wrong – what was done wrong to us) to the point that those thoughts can leave us stuck there: I’m mourning what has past, I’m regretting past mistakes; I’m nursing past hurts.
For Lot’s wife, turning into a pillar of salt isn’t just a punishment for breaking a direct command from God – but something she does to herself… Her refusal to let go of the past, her longing to the perception of safety she had, the emotional, spiritual fixation on these things has her frozen in a sense, wanting to preserve it – like salt does.
Hint – Job is going to learn something similar… Be blessed in your reading, praying and reflecting today
DAY 10 Genesis 20-21; Job 9-10; Proverbs 2: 6-8
“AND GOD HEARD THE VOICE…”
One of the hardest things as a priest to face is not just encountering people who’ve experienced serious trial, a tremendous set back, devastating loss – and lost their faith.
Trials, set backs, losses are awful for any and everyone… simple empathy makes us care and want to try to alleviate those feelings in some way. But when someone finds themselves losing their faith in response to these challenges, as a priest, in these moments when words fail to begin with, they seem even harder to come by. Because the questions that are being presented “How can I believe in God…” “Where was He…” “How did He allow…” “Explain it to me” – you can hear the understandable pain. You may want to answer – but you realize that would easily turn into a debate with someone who is in pain. You don’t want to answer and say something wrong or something that will bring even more pain.
That’s what came to mind as we continue on with Job today and hear the depths of despair as he describes how he loathes his life after unprecedented loss and unhelpful conversations with his friends (kind of making my point in the last paragraph)
What I loved in these scriptures though is that as we encounter legitimate and unimaginable painful situations these fellow humans experience. Not just continuing this painful walk with Job – but who can even begin to contemplate a mother feeling so helpless and hopeless that she has to walk away convinced that he is going to die and there’s nothing she can do to prevent that from happening. Or how about Sarah and Abraham himself who’s fears get so great and overwhelming that they are convinced they have lost one another and that their marital vows will be violated and there’s nothing they can do about it. There’s no sugar coating or putting a good spin on any of this. These situations are all awful
In all of this, that line jumps out “AND GOD HEARS THE VOICE” (Genesis 21: 19) in that particular instance of the son of Abraham and Hagar, Ishmael. The baby whom Hagar felt abandoned by Abraham and perhaps God Himself – his cries catch the almighty’s ears… As does Sarah and Abraham’s… As will Jobs’s.
That is the good news. God does hear. Sometimes there’s a miraculous answer, sometimes God moves hearts and minds… sometimes there’s seeming silence. But the common denominator to all these stories of woe is that God hears.
Which circling back to our own encounters of people in trying times to remember… Sometimes there’s nothing you can do, but just listen and be with them. And that can be more than enough.
DAY 11: Genesis 22-23; Job 11-12; Prov 2: 9-15
NOT LOOKING FOR PROOF –
Fr Mike really does a beautiful job of highlighting so many things in the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. It’s not uncommon for people to be completely unnerved (if not worse) by this episode. We who’ve been walking with Abraham for a couple days in our scripture readings have had a glimpse of this long held pain of being childless for Abraham and Sarah… we try to imagine the rejoicing (after the disbelief) when in their old age they finally were expecting a child. To get to this chapter, it’s not uncommon for people to say “it’s so cruel of God.” Even the subtitle for this chapter “God tests Abraham” – it’s not out of bounds to ask “But why?”
Jesus, in the Gospel of John will tell us that “there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend…” And as we look at the Cross we are humbled recognizing that He was talking about what He will do for us. But I’ll go on a limb here and say Abraham being called to make this sacrifice, that is even greater love. For the vast majority of parents, there’s nothing they would do to protect, to shield, to save their child. Its an almost instinctual impulse they develop.
What scripture tells us is that God, being the ultimate of Father’s, would never ask us to do something He wouldn’t do for us. Abraham is brought to the brink demonstrates how his heart has been purified. He’s no longer the fearful, wavering, faltering man passing off his wife as a sister. He has developed a selfless, sacrificial heart in the image of God the Father.
And God stops Him. God Sees that love. He sees that trust. God looks at Abraham the one He has called to be a Father of nations and stops him in this most intimate of moments and treats him as a son. God himself will make the ultimate and greatest of sacrifices with the cooperation of His Son – Jesus.
The story of Abraham and Isaac is meant to cause us to pause and reflect: When we feel we’re being tested or called to sacrifice something – the question shouldn’t be why do I have to even consider this – but what is holding me back from giving whatever it is I’m being challenged to offer to Him?
This isn’t the story of some crazy old, delusional man – (God or Abraham)
DAY 12: Genesis 24; Job 13 – 14 & Proverbs 2: 16-19
“I WILL GO”
Reading through some of your comments from the last few days has been particularly moving. Again, thank you for your heartfelt vulnerability. Its humbling to read the prayers of your hearts – whether it’s a prayer of grief and mourning, fear or anxiety for a host of incredibly valid reasons – or the opposite end, celebrating some truly happy, joyous occassions.
One of the beautiful gifts of us spending this time reading the Bible everyday, outside of just hearing scripture at Mass on Sunday is the opportunity to get a much grander perspective of the people, their stories and more importantly God’s story which is what is ultimately unfolding with all these other stories.
The phrase of “leaning into providence” really stands out to me today in reflecting on Isaac and Rebekah who found one another thanks to the Genesis Dating Service (kidding, just making sure you’re still reading 🙂 ) The beauty in this episode to me is not just the servant who is trusting God to provide – but also the receptivity and openness on both Isaac and Rebekah’s part. That’s put so simply, humbly and beautifully as Rebekah responds I will go Gen 24: 58… Isaac for his part, when does he first lay his eyes on his future wife – as he is going off to pray (“Isaac went out to meditate” Gen 25: 67) Isaac who was mourning the loss of his mother, was experiencing grief and loneliness didn’t let that become an obstacle to crying out and praying to God and it’s there that he first meets the one who he will unite and help fulfill God’s promise to Abraham to bring countless generations.
On the other end of the emotional spectrum, Job is still crying out to God. Why? Why this pain? Why this loss? What did I do wrong? Tell me, show me, help me? As painful as it is to hear our friend in his pain, we rejoice that he is also leaning into providence. He is still trusting in God. In some ways, you could argue his faith is stronger than Isaac. It’s easy to rejoice in God’s favor when the beautiful woman of your dreams is coming as an answer to a young, single man’s prayers. When you’ve lost your entire family, all your possessions and your friends keep trying to convinve you you must’ve done something wrong for this predicament – and you still bear your heart and soul in prayer – that is indeed leaning into providence.
DAY 13: Genesis 25-26; Job 15-16; Proverbs 2: 20-22
Someone mentioned in their comments yesterday that “Trust in God” seems to be coming up a lot. It’s like the overarching theme or ultimate point we come to. Which is very true. If it were only that easy!
Hearing today’s scriptures where Isaac falls into the same exact cowardly move that Abraham had chapters earlier – trying to pass his wife off as his sister “Lest I did because of her…” What’s striking is how familiar a move. It’s not just like Father like Son… It’s like great, great, great…. grandfather, like great, great, great… grandson. When Adam is asked, why he did the one thing God had commanded him no to do, he immediately blames “the woman you put here, she told me to eat of it…” We get another glimpse of the effects of brokenness.
They all had clear directions and indications of God’s presence and expectations. Yet in the moment of challenge that trust was undermined by doubts, by lies, by fear.
Even in the readings from Job, the back and forth between these most unhelpful of friends… think back to this dialogue – the friends are desperate to assign some level of blame on Job himself as to why he’s in the tragic state he’s in. It’s almost like he’s trying too hard. Almost as if he can’t handle not finding and an answer, some category where Job falls into to explain the predicament. It’s almost like he’s not there to help a friend, but rather somehow protect his own fragile faith.
Yes “trust in God” could definitely be a daily headline or summary of our readings. It’s even better as a prayer.
The various stories and episodes point out the complexity in accomplishing that. It’s not a learned habit or technique that we master, but something that we find is in constant renewal.
May we recognize how often our daily and exaggerated fears distracts us from the healthy fear we should have at the awe and wonder of who God is . We have an amazing Father who despite His almighty-ness, wants to know us intimately and for us to constantly reach out to.
“…if you cry out for insight and raise your voice for understanding…then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” Proverbs 2: 3-5
DAY 14 – Genesis 27 – 28; Job 17-18; Proverbs 3: 1-4
GOD IS JUST – HUMAN BEINGS NOT SO MUCH
The sibling rivalry between Jacob and Esau hits a fever pitch. Through deception, Jacob steals his father’s blessing. This the ultimate of insults and thefts after a lifetime of competition that started in their mother’s womb gets to a level of such intensity that Esau plans on killing Jacob after the funeral of their father.
Now you know where the Sopranos got some of their storylines from.
In the past, I’ve always been struck with the fact that Esau being duped out of the final blessing so unjustly – it’s not fair… Why wasn’t there a way to rectify this obvious wrong? Between Fr. Mike’s thoughts and reflection it came to me like this: God is just – human beings not so much.
The Blessing that Isaac is giving -it’s something that God has entrusted to him. Whatever power, whatever effect, whatever favor that is contained isn’t of Isaac’s doing. It’s something that came to him from his father Abraham, who received it from God. The blessing was entrusted to them. And God’s blessing has staying power – it is irrevocable.
While the focus is understandably on the two brothers – the two parents can’t be excused from their contributions to this tense environment. The competition was nurtured by the Mother and Father taking sides and playing favorites. Yes Jacob had free will (well a Mother’s guilt in the background might really inhibit that, but…) But what helped distort that free will? What continued the long history of the brokenness of humanity from the fall of Adam and Eve? Was continuing to give into those base, human, broken desires and inclinations. The selfish, self-centered parts that say “I know what we’re supposed to do… I know who rightfully deserves this blessing, but I want…”
God is not glorified by such actions – but will be able to do something good in spite of the evil. The Blessing may have not been Jacob’s to take… human beings may not act justly (and that might be putting it mildly) but God’s purposes will move forward even in the face of such evil, even in the face of such wrong.
– and although Job, understandably, can’t comprehend or feel that right now… the same is true for him.
DAY 15 – Gen 29-30; Job 19-20; Prov 3: 5-8
It would be quite the feat if you were able to recount all of the characters and who did what to whom when to get what from those two chapters.
That sentence is probably as confusing as those two chapters of Genesis. Woah. Full stop.
The numbers of people being used, abused… the sadness of it all. For a majority of church-going Catholics, no doubt a lot of head-scratching and wondering “I don’t ever remember hearing this.” Maybe even more pointedly – what is this even doing in here – it simply sounds like a terrible soap opera.
Thankfully though, if you’ve been able to stick with this consecutively for the last 15 days, you’re picking up some of the points that have been coming up –
1 – Just because it’s in the bible and there’s not an immediate condemnation of something, it doesn’t mean that the Bible or more importantly – God is condoning something. We’re going to encounter the full spectrum of humanity in scripture
2 – In the midst of this – even in the seeming silence of God, we’re assured He does notice – He does care… He is constantly at work and in His mercy, is working – right there in those spaces of belief, in those corners of the heart that want to please God (but keeps falling back into the patterns of brokenness) Yes, Jacob deceived… Yes, Jacob’s now been on the receiving end of it in getting “weak eyes” as his wife rather than the one who had caught his eye (and who he had been promised) Yes, the effects of sin are in full, ugly display. But God sees the best attempts. He hears the cries. He is well aware of the injustices. Being the loving (and patient) Father that He is, He keeps trying to help his wayward children to see the good and choose the good.
3 – With each passing chapter, it will become more and more apparent that humanity will not be able to do it on their own. Even the most righteous of men and women, the corruption of sin will still affect them and their decision-making.
All of which brings us to the short verses from Proverbs, which reminds us “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.” (3: 5) This isn’t just good advice as we reflect on scripture, but as we navigate the soap operas of our own lives.
DAY 16 – Gen 31-32; Job 21-22; Prov 3: 9-12
A DIFFERENT LINEAGE
So Fr Mike through a bit of a curveball by pivoting to Job in the reflection today instead of Genesis. But he made an essential point about being with people in their suffering. It was studying this scripture way back in college that impressed on me the importance of staying away from saying things like “God has a plan” or “at least they’re not in pain anymore” to people at funerals. Those are well-meaning and contain truth in them – but they can be incredibly painful to someone who is suffering. So hopefully as difficult a chapter as this is to navigate, some different insights are coming to you and registering.
But I couldn’t resist reacting to the continuing saga of Jacob. In the last two weeks, we’ve gone through a couple of genealogies in Genesis. But as we get to these chapters of Genesis it struck me a different type of lineage that we encounter. Not the connection of “blood” from one individual to another or the passing on of a family name from generation to generation. But the lineage of brokenness and sin.
Think about some of the lowlights: Jacob stole his brother’s blessing
Laban did the ole switcheroo in giving his daughter Leah (“weak eyes”) instead of Rachel citing Jacob’s own history of sinfulness (remember on realizing he was deceived, Laban says basically “we don’t know how things are done where you come from, but here – the oldest receives favor before the youngest – reminding Jacob – oh yeah, you did the same to Esau)
Jacob and Rachel turn on Leah (Leah was hated)
Rachel envies Leah and they have a sibling rivalry that is for the ages
Jacob starts to prosper and the Laban’s sons envy him and then Laban turns on him for that…
As Catholics, this is one of the reasons Jesus left us the Sacrament of Reconciliation. No sin is ever private. The envy, the jealousy, the hatred we think we harbor “just in my thoughts” never truly stay there as we see in the stories of our ancestors.
Yet, God’s still working in the lives of these broken people. Jacob hears God’s call to return home. Yes, fear is still gripping him – to return to his brother who hates him and leave Laban who isn’t too fond of him either right now. In the midst of that though, Jacob does summon the faith and trust to return. He’s trying. And God sees that. God notices that. He sees that potential deep within. This is what brings about that mysterious wrestling match between “a man” (who is God) and Jacob all night.
The blessing he stole from his brother, he now has to prove he truly desires with all his strength. God recognizes the spiritual growth from the competitive, impetuous Jacob, whose name meant “his hand had taken hold of Esau’s heel” (Gen 25: 26) to ISRAEL which means ‘God Contended’, ‘Wrestles with God.’
It’s been a long journey – but as today’s proverb reminded us: “The Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights…” (Prov 3: 12)
DAY 17 Gen 33 & 34 ; Job 23 & 24; Prov 3: 13 – 18
HANG ON TO HOPE
My gut reaction reading Genesis today… wow, that was short-lived. Here we have been building up to this meeting between the two estranged brothers Jacob (Israel) and Esau. Who when last we met, it was clear the older brother had nothing but hate and vengeance in his heart for his brother. Yet Jacob, after “wrestling with God” has been changed. He’s been changed from a man of deception and grabbing what is not his own to someone who has come into a deeper understanding of God after contending with Him.
The beautiful reality, the truth is that when we experience God’s blessings, they’re never just for ourselves alone. They cannot help but produce blessings to those around us. The reunion between the two brothers takes a plot twist we didn’t expect – reconciliation… the dawn of mercy, the experience of restoration. Jacob’s reaction reminded me of Jesus meeting the tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19) – immediately after encountering Jesus, his life has changed. The material possessions that he unjustly took, he immediately disavows and offers “Lord ! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (Luke 19: 8)
In the excitement of an encounter with God, those types of reactions are understandable. But what about when life goes back to ordinary, everyday routines. Or what about when trials and difficulties arise. Or when abject evil is unleashed. Job – we’ve been following along for a solid week or so in his completely random and inexplicable time of loss and sorrow. Jacob has no sooner had a long for healing with his brother than his heart is ravaged as his daughter is raped.
We’ve heard and walked with Job’s cries and questions… We can only begin to imagine the pain in Jacob’s ripped-out heart. How does he not resort to even understandable human impulses to exact not just justice but vengeance (as his sons end up doing?)
Hanging on to hope.
He cannot forget where he has come from in his encounter with God. He cannot let the profound, life-changing experience (so much so that it was important enough for God to change his name) to not affect how he will respond to this travesty. You can see and hear the struggle of the father who is furious at what happened and at the same time, while understanding why the sons reacted the way they did, is not on board with that either. Jacob is a different man because of God.
As is Job. We can’t lose sight that Job is incredibly faithful. As he pours out his heart in wrenching passage after passage – he’s still talking to God. He still believes in Him. He doesn’t know if God still believes in Job or why He won’t talk to Job… but it’s the heart of a true believer who continues to pray in the midst of the storm, when answers seem hard to come by.
They will be rewarded and find “Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gets understanding…those who hold her fast are called happy.” Prov 3: 13-18
DAY 18 – Genesis 35 & 3; Job 25 & 26; Proverbs 3: 19-24
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON?
We’ve heard that phrase and understand the point – that the appearance, the behavior of a son resembles something of the father. Crunched in between a lot of movement in Jacob/Israel’s life (returning to Bethel, the birth of another son, the death of his beloved wife Rachel, death of his father Isaac) there’s one slight verse that stands out – that while Jacob/Israel is out on the land, his oldest son (Reuben) sleeps with Jacob’s concubine. (Genesis 35: 22)
I know – if you were listening to this while driving, you might have endangered yourself or others on the road. We are confronted with all kinds of immorality that are just rattled off without even a seeming editorial comment. Which often unnerves people. So just a quick reminder – no you’re not crazy… yes you did just read that and no, there’s nothing right about Jacob having wives (note the plural) AND concubines…
Nor is there anywhere under the sun that it was okay for the eldest son of Jacob to sleep with her while dad is out in the fields. I’ll be honest, I did not remember this story. And just reading it, I couldn’t help but think – we see a family pattern, don’t we? Who else decided to take “something” that wasn’t his to take? It’s in his name (or his old name) – JACOB. So in some way he has passed this destructive, broken attitude to the son who takes it to a whole abhorrent level.
Like Fr Mike points out, as much as we want the Hallmark movie, more often than not, the seeming unending twists and turns we’ve already encountered (at only day 18) is more relatable to the world we live in, and sometimes even in our own lives. This atrocious scene will not be forgotten by the Father… stay tuned.
In the meantime, though, we aren’t to get lost in the brokenness or depressed by the seeming history of just awful lineage we come from. But rather recall that overriding reality that God had set down his bow after the flood with Noah and would take the harder road with humanity from that day forward. He will continue to put up with us because He loves us. He will keep envisioning our fullest potentials, blessing us when we respond to His grace with the hope that indeed, one day it can be said of us – Like Father, like son and daughter…
+ Quick note on another family tree… as you hear all of these foreign and hard to recall names, maybe take this as a challenge to bring to mind one relative, or friend that perhaps you haven’t thought about in ages… Use this time where we might have zoned out to in some way be intentional about that person – maybe it will mean offering a short prayer for them, maybe a quick message – or maybe an intentional phone call or letter to just reach out and let them know you’re thinking/remembering them. What better way to honor this recurring truth from God’s word that no one is forgotten – everyone of us has a place in God’s story … more importantly in the Father’s heart?
DAY 19: Genesis 37; Job 27-28; Proverbs 3: 25-27
THE POTENTIAL WITHIN –
OK – so thanks to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, we think we know this story – and if you’re musical-theater fans, you might have some tunes floating in your head as you heard today’s scriptures (“could you use a slave, you hairy bunch of Ishmaelites?…poor poor Joseph, whatcha gonna do?” ). It’s understandable why they were drawn to this for a show – it’s got a lot of great characters, major literary themes for dramatic purposes – love, jealousy, betrayal… but like most things, reading the book is better – or at least there’s more detail.
Because, unlike the musical which likes a good stand-alone story with a prologue, Act I, Act II, finale.. We realize this is another chapter of God’s story and our story.
And Fr. Mike’s reflection underlined for me that reality of THE POTENTIAL WITHIN – each and every human heart. How just being overlooked can turn the heart of brother towards brother into a murderous rage. And to be fair, Joseph is not without blame – How being favored can become a source of pride or arrogance… But we also can’t miss the impulse in Reuben’s heart with his plan to rescue the brother from the initial plan of the brothers. There were choices, impulses, decisions that each of these individuals made which shifted the trajectory of the story into one that many of us know.
But just because we know how things will turn out for Joseph, for Jacob and sons ( 🙂 ), none of these things were written in stone like a script. These decisions are “fixed” now into this narrative. At the outset, God blessed them with freedom knowing the potential within each of them that comes with that gift. Which is just as true today for each of us.
+ Quick point on the differences in translations. In the musical on Joseph, the focus is on the “Amazing technicolor Dreamcoat.” The version that Fr Mike is reading from it’s described as a long robe with long sleeves…(Genesis 37: 3) I guess Joseph and the Long Robe with Long Sleeves wouldn’t have marketed too well 🙂
DAY 20 Genesis 38; Job 29 30
HEY JUDE (-AH)
Yeah, so this chapter definitely didn’t make it into a kid-friendly musical. It seems like a most bizarre tangent or diversion from the Joseph narrative. Yet it’s actually an important piece of the puzzle. Remember who was Judah? One of Joseph’s older brother. One of the responsibilities as one of the eldest was to pass down the covenant of God the Father to the next generation. He had commitments to God, to the Family, to all of the people of the covenant. Judah had proven an absolute failure in those. Conspiring with the brothers first to kill, then, emerging as a leader and encouraging them to sell their younger brother into slavery – has done immeasurable damage to all of the relationships he was to supposed to be committed to. He sinned before God, He dishonored (and grieved) his father and divided his family, and became another example in the chapters of brokenness and sinfulness affecting the human family since the days of the Garden of Eden.
In short, Judah is another in a long line of men who actively pursue sin… This family has enough skeletons in the closet to seem to disqualify anything good or wholesome to come from it: Judah’s lack of regard for his family – (or anyone for that matter); his hypocrisy in wanting to stone Tamar for the same sins he committed…
As difficult as a read this is, as it airs all of the family’s dirty laundry – it’s also preparing us to see how the faithfulness, the fidelity of another son will save all of them. God’s salvific works from the family of Israel (namely the Messiah is to come from this family line) will need some redemption itself before we’re ever going to get to Jesus. Coming from the most unlikely of source:s Joseph. On the surface he would seem to be the forgotten brother sold into slavery in Egypt. But not to God. God will demonstrate that faithfulness, fidelity, even in the face of the bleakest and most seemingly insurmountable of circumstances is one way He loves to mount the greatest of comebacks… and completely upend the story.
DAY 21 – Genesis 39 – 40; Job 31-32 Prov 3: 33-35
CHARACTER REVEALED IN CRISIS
If you do a google search, variations of the saying “Character is revealed in crisis” is attributed to a wide range of people including comedian Denis Leary and illustrated in memes and graphics meant to motivate and inspire people. We rightly think of brave soldiers, firefighters, police officers who walk into harms way dealing with some emergency that has people fleeing the scene.
Less celebrated in this category in 2021 would be the resistance to temptation, particularly sexual sins as we see Joseph in today’s episode of DAYS OF GENESIS. Like the rest of you “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” fans – it’s hard not to read chapter 39 and not hear the playful tunes and witty lyrics recounting Potiphar luring Joseph. But let’s try! Because it’s an important moment.
Here the young lad has been betrayed by his family. Sold as property from Ishmaelites to Egyptians. His whole family identity has been obliterated. Joseph has to feel lost, abandoned, disillusioned. Putting myself in that position – thinking of times of feeling abused or taken advantage of by people I once trusted or considered friends are not happy memories I like to revisit. And the reality is that my impulse wasn’t to respond in a noble, virtuous way to whatever wrong or grievance I may have suffered.
Which is why Joseph’s example is so noteworthy. Not the least of which in the last 3 weeks we have more than a few notable examples of the opposite. “The Lord was with Joseph” isn’t just some advantage that Joseph had over his brothers or ancestors – but a relational thing – we hear that in vs. 9: …how can I do this great wickedness and sin against God? Joseph resisted Mrs. Potiphar’s advances simply because of His love for God.
That faithfulness on Joseph’s part won’t result in further injustices. But, the reality of Joseph’s character – and God’s will eventually provide far greater blessings than Joseph could of imagined as he is unjustly imprisoned listening to a baker and butler’s dreams. As low as Joseph finds himself at that moment – because of his fidelity, the “Lord was with Joseph” and remains with him.
Spoiler alert – our friend Job will eventually come to that truth as well.
DAY 22 – Genesis 41-42; Job 33-34; Prov 4: 1-9
(NOT JUST) ANY DREAM WILL DO
So no doubt some (many?) of you have been re-visiting memorable moments from the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and have images of an Elvis-impersonator Pharaoh after today’s readings.
As much of a fan I am of the show, I have to confess something just hit me re-reading this today that I had never thought about before (if I’m wrong on this, I’ll rely on some other theater fans to correct me). Who is the one character omitted from the show?
Reading chapter 41 of Genesis, as Pharaoh calls for Joseph at the suggestion of the butler (two years later than he promised) and we hear about 7 cows, 7 ears of corn (Bop-shoo-wa-da-wa-bop-bop-shoo-wa-da-wa) yet the pivotal difference between scripture and the show can be found in Genesis 41: 16: It is not me, God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.
Joseph recognizes that the ability to interpret dreams isn’t something that he was able to do by his own ability – it’s God working through him. Even Pharaoh, who was not a Jew, not a believer recognizes God – and his mighty works in Joseph “Can we find such a man as this, in whom is the Spirit of God? So Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Since God has shown you all this…you shall be over my house.” (Genesis 41: 38-40)
Perhaps the musical is taking it for granted that people can read between the lines and fill in the blanks. But it is significant. If you don’t truly know the story from Genesis, the whole show seems ridiculous or illogical without God and rather a story about a “boy who’s dreams came true.”
Without God, none of it makes sense. For Joseph, or for any of us for that matter…
As we read previously – Genesis reminds us that God was with Joseph throughout his darkest days and moments.
As Joseph experiences restoration, he credits his fidelity to the Lord has saved him – in the names he gives his sons “Manasseh – meaning God made me forget all my hardships; Ephraim, God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction”
God is central to Joseph’s story.
God is central to Job’s story – even though it remains a puzzle to him that he’s trying to piece together (with no help from his friends) We can never lose sight that Job still remains in dialogue about God, with God in this his darkest of times. Job still sees Him as central to His story.
Where is God in our story?
DAY 23 – Genesis 43-44; Job 35-36; Prov 4: 1-9
“THE LORD WAS WITH JOSEPH”
Why all the drama? Why the set ups? What’s with all the back and forth – Egypt to Canaan and back again, this time with missing brother Benjamin in tow. You’d think that at first sight, Joseph would’ve been ready to reveal himself – and exact vengeance or call them out or something. This seems a bizarre course of action on the surface. But let’s just remember –
1 – Joseph was Jacob (Israel’s) favorite son, the eldest of his favorite wife Rachel (I know… I know… the whole polygamy thing… we’ll get to that in a few books)
2 – Joseph’s initial questioning about “where’s Benjamin” – his younger brother, the only living sibling from his Mother and Father is his way of questioning the other 10 half-brothers (who had planned to kill then opted to sell him into slavery) to see what (if anything they had done) to him.
3 – Judah emerges now as a leader… He has to implore Jacob (Israel) to let them bring Benjamin to Egypt to rescue Simeon and buy food for the famine.
4 – All of which leads to Judah eventually begging for Benjamin’s life when Joseph’s cup is found in his sack, willing to offer himself in Benjamin’s place.
It brings to mind the saying “God’s ways are not our ways…” and more importantly what we had read earlier – “The Lord was with Joseph.” Judah after some pretty miserable failures earlier including conspiring against his brother Joseph, has had a conversion of heart where he is willing to sacrifice himself for his brother Benjamin.
Yes God was with Joseph – but he didn’t forget about the rest of the family. He’s been working in many ways to keep reaching out to them, calling them to make better decisions, virtuous actions and movements and now through Joseph, he’s about to bring about one of the greatest acts of love: forgiveness… reconciliation.
DAY 24 – Genesis 45-46; Job 37-38; Prov 4: 20-27
Of all the scripture passages we’ve encountered so far, today’s selections have been my favorite and are perfectly times… 3 and a half weeks in, here on a Sunday, the Lord’s Day, we get to celebrate with Joseph – and with Job – as God reveals Himself.
First, for Joseph, he reveals his identity to his brothers. It is said that in all of the scriptures, Old and New Testament, the command that God offers the most to his followers the most, is “Do not be afraid” (that it’s expressed 365 times, once for every day). One of the first things Joseph says to his brothers? Do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves?
How does all the grief, the pain, the justifiable outrage and anger, the desire for vengeance dissipate for Joseph? Joseph tells me – GOD SENT ME… Joseph is able to see past the evil that was done to him and recognize how God brought good out of evil.
This brings up a point that Fr. Mike mentions that I have a slight variation on. When he speaks in the podcast of “joyful tears” (Why do we cry at joyful moments, Fr Mike asks… reflecting on the reality that it could have been otherwise…) Which is true.
For me, though, one major reflection is that Joy does not always equal happiness – particularly when it comes to God. Joy comes when we have an awareness of God, in the midst of everything – even in the midst of pain and suffering. That’s something we’ll delve deeper into when we get to the Beatitudes. When Jesus goes through the list of those who are “Blessed” – he includes the mourning, the poor in spirit, the persecuted… a whole list of people in states or conditions that are less than ideal. In another translation, the word “Blessed” is translated as “Joyful.” Which reiterates the point… Joyful, Blessed are those who have an awareness of God, who do not lose sight of Him, who maintain hope and trust, and faith and love in God even when experiencing the lowest of he lows.
Joseph has done that – and that is what is at root of this reconciliation, reunion and even conversion where the “pagan” Egyptian at the sights and sounds of all this, he too is pleased and moved to generosity.
Something similar is just starting to be revealed to Job. We’ve finally moved to the pivotal point of these chapters. When God speaks. In fact, it’s so important and so beautiful, you might want to rewind and listen to chapter 38 again. As God recounts the intricacies and thought and care that went into every crevice of creation – He is revealing that includes each and every moment of our lives… and that will come out more fully with Job as we finish our time with him. But for now, we hear that incredible revelation again: The highs and lows, the sadnesses, the trials, the happiest moments, the dreams fulfilled in each and every one of our lives – God reveals He sees it all, He knows it all. He is with us.
What could bring us more true, and lasting Joy?
DAY 25 – Genesis 47 & 48; Job 39 & 40 Ps 16
These last chapters of Genesis, there’s a whole lot going on… First we have Joseph seemingly taking advantage of the poor Egyptians… enslaving them to Pharaoh as the famine rages in the land. Then we hear of another Father on his death bed with a seeming mix up of who is getting the more important blessing (coming from the right hand) where the younger son gets what should have gone to the older son.
So to go a little below the surface: First, the Egyptians had chosen to ignore God’s word conveyed in the dream that Pharaoh had that Joseph had so accurately interpreted (through God’s inspiration and wisdom). As the interpretation was made, as they saw the barns being built and supplies being stored, they ignored the warning – ate, drank and were merry (kind of like the people in Noah’s time). There closed minds and hearts don’t result in destruction like the people laughing at a man building a mighty ark – but it does result in their loss of their provisions, their freedom. (This would be an example of how sometimes sinfulness results in suffering)
As for the episode of the death bed blessing – it’s interesting how Jacob, a younger son himself who had “stolen” the blessing that was rightly Esau’s from his father Isaac (back in chapter 27) now deliberately chooses to offer the greater blessing to Joseph’s younger son. The point? Well maybe the “natural order”, the way we think things ought to go, don’t always align with God’s will or plan. Perhaps God even used that whole painful disordered scene between Jacob and his brother so many generations earlier to chart out a new course where things weren’t just done because “thats the way its always been done before…” Jacob in his spirit felt compelled to offer this particular blessing to the one who wasn’t expected. It won’t be the last time God chooses the least likely of candidates. His providence remains a mystery.
Which is what Job is finally coming to a place of understanding as well. I had to dig out texts from my Theology professor from college who’s entire doctoral thesis was on Job to find this nugget. He quoted G.K. Chesterton’s appraisal on the book of Job saying The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.
That’s what Fr. Mike was expressing in his reflection. Job doesn’t get definitive answers to the reason for his suffering. But he gets to a place of acceptance of it. Human intuition still wants to fight, debate and argue – and point to the injustice of the whole thing – simply because having read from the beginning, of Job’s righteousness, of this “bet” with Satan, and all these weeks later – we know the whole story.
Or we think we do. As intelligent, thoughtful, reflective as we can be, the beauty of God’s response reminds us of the awesomeness of God. That we only merely scratch the slightest inking of the surface in understanding. When we are able to let go of our desire for control, let go of our expectations, and come before God with awe and reverence – we begin to submit ourselves to His providence. Which is the only place we find the understanding our hearts desire.
DAY 26 – Genesis 49 & 50; Job 41-42 & Ps 17
CONFRONTING THE MYSTERY OF GOD
Congratulations everyone! You’ve completed two books of the Old Testament! The reality that thousands of people around the world are having God’s word poured into them, that they are praying and reflecting on His eternal truths – I cannot imagine this not having some amazing effects in people’s lives and how those ripples will affect and change things – so I just want to encourage you – Keep up with it! Don’t get discouraged if you fall behind a day or two, just pick up wherever you’re at and keep persevering.
So we come to the end of Genesis and Job today. How to sum things up?
In Genesis we hear Jacob’s life comes to an end, the closing chapters focus on Jacob’s sons. Kind of amazing that the brothers are able to put aside their grief for a moment – for what? to resort to past self-centered thoughts and behaviors. The funeral is barely concluded and what’s the first thing they think? “Is Joseph going to finally exact his revenge on us?” For the second time in this concluding chapter, Joseph wept. First for his father, now for his brother’s doubts.
In Job, for the better part of 30 or so chapters, it’s been pretty heart-wrenching reading Job’s losses with the unhelpful friends who rather than accompanied their friend in his sorrow and sadness were in a sense sowing seeds of doubt in the heart of the righteous man. Incredibly, God shows up and answers Job with a monologue that can sound pretty sarcastic. As if God is putting Job in his place. Well, God is doing that… He’s God – Job’s not. But we have to take the the layers of sarcasm away. Read it as a Father who loves his child… Yes he’s a grown child… He has learned a lot and weathered many things. But Job is far from being in the position of understanding the full complexity of their own heart and soul – let alone that of every other being in God’s creation, or God himself. The encounter leaves Job with this breathtaking verse: I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you. (42:5)
For Jacob’s sons and for Job – one of the unifying things to me for both of them is that they are confronted with different aspects of the mystery of God. For Joseph’s’ brothers that’s in experiencing mercy. Joseph had already forgiven them, reconciled, reunited, welcomed them into Egypt. (Remember, “the Lord was with Joseph.”) What made him weep was that lingering doubt that they had held onto all this time. That had undermined every family gathering… that was right there below the surface each time the brothers embraced. They still doubted the authenticity of love they had experienced.
Job’s doubts on the other hand, are far more understandable. The undeniable suffering of the righteous man for seemingly no reason is real. God’s not dismissing his feelings or faulting Job for having them. While many focus on the restoration of everything (there’s that Hallmark ending Fr. Mike was looking for!) The deeper message I take is that in the end, Job renews his trust in God, he recognizes his place in God’s creation… he recognizes and as at peace that it’s fine to have questions – but that some questions are not meant to be answered, but lived.
Hopefully Joseph’s brothers eventually came to that truth as well.
And hopefully, we can.