Readings for Proper 14 (19) 10 August 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Proper 14A/Ordinary 19A/Pentecost +13 August 10, 2008 Textweek

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

Today we hear the start of the Joseph narrative in Genesis, and I wonder if the church has ever grasped the full import of that story. In verse 2 we hear that Joseph is a shepherd and he is with his brothers; verse 3 tells of a special relationship between Israel and Joseph - between father and son. The same verse draws attention to Joseph’s long robe, a robe that the father made for him – Joseph is clothed with his father’s making. The story of Joseph is the story of Jesus and that has significant implications which we’ll hopefully collect shortly. In verse 4, Joseph was hated by his brothers. Why? Because of love, specifically his father’s love. This is so like the Jesus story, even more so when we appreciate the theological principles that the narrative seeks to illuminate. In verse 13 Israel says, ‘Come, I will send you’ and Joseph replies ‘"Here I am." We’ve heard those words before over and over, it’s the classic God and prophet dialogue. Joseph becomes the one who is sent; Joseph becomes the Christ.

To drive the Christology even further, in verse 19, Joseph is called the dreamer. We only have to go back a Sunday or two to recall the story of Jacob, Israel, Joseph’s father and we remember that it was Jacob that dreamed the stairway to heaven. So here we have a son named the same as the father – the gospel writers many years later will pick up the same theological point, made even more explicit in the revelation of Christ – the father and the son are one.

So we read the story of Joseph again and realise that we’re reading the story of Jesus. You see it even more so – Reuben takes on the character that later on will be enacted by Pilate; Judah plays a part that will later on be played out by Judas Iscariot. Joseph and Jesus are the dreamers, they envisage a new future, a change in the power structures that support the present culture; it is a dream and a change that is based on love and that very dream becomes a threat to those who would uphold existing structures. It’s a threat that generates hatred, even in Joseph’s brothers.

Paul explorers the whole dynamic in terms of law and faith. What Paul suggests is that arguments of faith based on law, regardless of the direction, are no basis for integrity with faith. Why is this? Why is Paul, a man of the law, now speaking completely against his past teaching? The penny has dropped for Paul, and he makes it really clear in verse 8: ‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart’; the word is near you, on your lips and in your heart. Just like the Joseph narrative that verse illuminates a profound Christological insight: the Word, the logos, the breath of creation, the Christ, is on your lips and in your heart. That’s what Resurrection is. If only the church could realise it. "The word is on your lips and in your heart". The recent GAFCON conference, the recent Lambeth conference are both set within a legal context: the brothers plot and argue, the scribes and the Pharisees debate. Imagine, dream of a gathering with the purpose of knowing and realising Christ is on your lips and in your heart, the very dream that challenges the very structure that the brothers are seeking to attain.

As we were reading the Gospel narrative – the picture is quite stunning that accompanies the Gospel reading. ‘Those in the boat worshipped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."’ It’s a striking image of the church, the church as it is today. What Matthew is doing is trying to illuminate for us, give it some revelation that goes beyond today. It’s one of the saddest pictures of the church: ‘Those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."’ The one thing that Christ didn’t want, the one thing that he sought to reveal the opposite of: the church sits in the boat and worships Christ. It’s so not what it’s about.

We get a glimpse of what it’s about – it’s about leaving the boat and walking on the water, with the doubt that might cause us to drown, but with the faith that might enable us to walk. ‘Christ is on your lips and in your heart’ and yet we sit on the boat looking out, worshipping and idolising a Christ that is not on our lips, a Christ that walks on the water out there. It’s a sad image of the church.

Within the story though, there’s the wonderful stepping outside, walking on the water. It’s a poignant story. At the core of it is the tragedy: ‘when the disciples saw him they were terrified and they cried out in fear’. If we go back to the Joseph narrative, we find the same fears, a fear that infected the brothers, that created separation and distance, and if we look to the Joseph narrative for what is being revealed there, then it might well cast light on the revelation of the Divine that is brought to us in the gospels through the life and person of Christ and that’s, that’s the significant implication. For if we do that then we accept a stunning heresy – we accept that Christ is revealed in the Hebrew scriptures. And if we accept that then I believe that we might also be open to the idea that Christ is revealed in the Hindu scriptures; we might also be open to the idea that Christ is revealed in the scriptures of Islam. And if we can look beyond, what we might find is a greater illumination, a deeper insight, a connection and an encounter that we’ve not yet found through the Christ as revealed in the Gospel.

Genesis reveals the divine purpose in the person of Joseph, Joseph (and so Jesus) when asked in verse 15, ‘What are you seeking?’ - the father has sent the son and the son seeks something. What are you seeking? ‘I’m seeking my brothers’, is the answer. That’s what Christ is all about, the revelation that we have: don’t be afraid, Christ is seeking my brothers; the Divine enfleshed seeks you and I. Not to gather a congregation of worshippers together, but rather to find my brothers and sisters. And the word, the Word, the Christ being sought, is the one that is within, on your lips and in your heart.

When we pray, seek a dialogue with the Divine. Just take a moment to ask the Divine, ‘What are you seeking?’ The answer will always come back, ‘I am seeking my brothers’. It’s an invitation to leave the boat, an invitation to walk on the water, to rise above the chaos, to know a different way, a way that the world will forever hate, a way that is born in love that has great power.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris

(The image is a Byzantine icon of Jesus walking on water)