We’re studying Genesis 45:1-15 for Sunday, September 27 – Joseph’s tearful reunion with his brothers – they have a history, as we know – after they beg for mercy for Benjamin. [Some notes on the text are here.] Here are some questions we could consider as we think about how to read this text for ourselves today:
This part of the story is very emotional; some of the emotions are mentioned explicitly in the text (see v3; 5; 14-15), and we can probably imagine others. All these emotions have been prepared by the events of the story so far, and if we think of a scene with 11 closely related characters, all those events, and the usual range of human emotion, we can imagine that a lot is going on in this scene emotionally. How would we describe those emotions? Do any particularly capture our attention? Which one or ones? Why do we think that is? Can we tell what has prepared us to read this story this way?
Joseph articulates a clear understanding of God’s role in the situation in verses 5-8. Does this understanding help him forgive his brothers, do we think? How, or why?
There is a lot of emphasis on Joseph’s father in the text, beginning with verse 3, and ending with Joseph’s urging his brothers to bring his father back to Egypt right away. It might be worth writing down each of the mentions of “father” in the text, and looking at those a little more closely. What comes to mind when we read these references to fatherhood? Do they give us any picture of what it means to be a “father” in this text? What picture? Does that picture seem to mean anything for us? What? Why?
According to the interpretive material this quarter, we are supposed to be reflecting on love as it appears in these texts. Where and how do we perceive the operation of love in this story? Does this tell us anything about love? What? How do we feel about that? Why?
[Here’s a giant theological question:] Joseph, in the text, attributes the outcome of the story so far to God: “God sent me before you to preserve life.” (v5) How do we understand this? That is … most of us have and live with some theological understanding, so we could ask ourselves: how does Joseph’s statement fit with our own theological understanding? Do we think Joseph is right about this, for instance? Or if we had a chance to sit down with him over a cup of coffee, would we want to argue a different position? Why?
[Our lesson book goes into the difference between “providence” – which is technically what Joseph is talking about here – and “predestination” – which is not the same thing, but is the doctrine of God’s ultimate agency in our salvation. This could be an opportunity to clarify our understanding of these theological ideas. But only if we wanted to! I will admit, however, that when these particular questions come up I always feel I need to say “Thank you, God, for making me a Presbyterian.”]
Or, we could ask ourselves how we think it works that God has brought this larger purpose out of a lot of ignoble human choices and actions. Do we hold God responsible for those, how responsible, why or why not? [Hint, or maybe warning: there is a classically correct non-heretical answer on this one.]
Or – to my mind more to the point: we could ask ourselves what it means for us to live in a world which we understand to be, immediately and daily, at the level of human relationships and society, the joint product of a lot of human activity, much of it frankly wicked or evil – but finally and definitively constrained to accomplish God’s purposes? What are the implications of that understanding of the world for our own choices and actions? What about our own emotional responses to various events or conditions?
In an election year, in particular, these might be good questions for us to spend some time on.