By Barbara Klugh
Genesis 45:1-15; Psalm 133; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15:10-28. Go to www.lectionarypage.net for the weekly lectionary text.
Again we have great readings. Joseph has a happy reunion with his brothers, Paul is firm that God has not rejected his chosen people, Jesus teaches the crowd, and heals the daughter of a determined Canaanite woman.
Genesis: This week’s reading takes place in Egypt 20 years after Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. Joseph has become powerful and now is Pharaoh’s second-in-command. Earlier in the narrative, we learn of a great famine in the Middle East and Joseph’s brothers, except Benjamin, journeyed to Egypt to buy grain. Joseph recognized his brothers, but they didn’t recognize him—after all, it’s 20 years later and Joseph is dressed like an Egyptian. Joseph sells them grain and tells his brothers that they must bring Benjamin with them when they return for more grain.
After a time, all the brothers return to Egypt, including Benjamin. Joseph sells them the grain, but continues to hide his identity, even engaging in a bit of subterfuge by ordering a silver cup be placed in Benjamin’s bag, and then accusing Benjamin of stealing it. Joseph insists that Benjamin remain in Egypt as his slave. Brother Judah begs Joseph to take him instead because their father would die if he lost his favorite son.
Now we come to this week’s reading. Joseph can no longer contain himself. He sends all the Egyptians out of the room and is alone with his brothers. Joseph reveals his identity to his astonished brothers by saying, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?”
Joseph then tells his brothers, “And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here;” God allowed it to happen so Joseph could save his family from starvation during the famine. Joseph tells his brothers to go home, tell their father the news, pack up their families and belongings, and move to Egypt; he will arrange for them to settle in the land of Goshen. So we end with a happy reunion and reconciliation.
This is our last reading from the book of Genesis. The Joseph story forms a bridge between the stories of the patriarchs and the exodus, and it explains how the Israelites came to live in Egypt.
Psalm: This week we have a Song of Ascent that works well with the reunion of Joseph and his brothers. It begins, “Oh, how good and pleasant it is, when brethren live together in unity!”
Here’s a link to a video of the Israeli folk song, “Hiney Mah Tov,” which is based on Psalm 133. The video has interesting old film footage. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wl78NVJNtCE
Romans: In this week’s brief reading, Paul is still grappling with the difficult question of why so many Jews rejected Jesus Christ while so many Gentiles have accepted him. Paul asks the rhetorical question, “Has God rejected his people?” and answers, “By no means!” God has not rejected the descendants of Abraham.
God keeps his promises. Israel is still chosen, and, in due course, their refusal to accept Christ will be overcome. Human disobedience—whether by Jews or Gentiles—gives God the opportunity to show mercy to all.
Matthew: We have two unrelated episodes this week. In the first, Jesus teaches the crowds, and explains his teaching to his disciples. Earlier in the chapter, the Pharisees accuse Jesus of breaking tradition by allowing his disciples to eat without first washing their hands. Jesus uses this as a teachable moment and addresses the crowd about what does or doesn’t make a person unclean. Jesus said that it is not what goes into a person’s mouth that defiles, but what comes out that defiles a person.
The disciples tell Jesus that the Pharisees were offended by his teaching. Jesus says to leave them alone—they are the blind leading the blind and God will uproot what he has not planted. Then the disciples ask Jesus to explain the parable. Jesus says what matters is not what people eat and how they eat it, but what they say. What is said reveals the heart, “For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.” This teaching will pave the way for table fellowship between Jews and Gentiles, which we read about in the book of Acts earlier this year.
Jesus then travels to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Depending on the commentary, this is probably outside Jewish territory. A Canaanite woman approaches Jesus and shouts, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” By addressing Jesus as “Lord, son of David,” the woman recognizes Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus doesn’t respond. The disciples tell Jesus to send her away. Jesus said to the woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
The woman will not give up. She knelt before Jesus and said, “Lord, help me.” Jesus answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But the woman is bold and persistent. She says, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus was moved to say, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” The woman’s daughter was healed instantly.
What a woman! She was desperate to get help for her daughter and would go to any length for her daughter’s sake. Somehow she knew that even the leftover crumbs from Jesus’ table would be enough. And this nameless Canaanite woman of two thousand years ago helped Jesus to redefine his mission to include all who come to him in faith.