7th Sunday After Epiphany
Genesis 45:3-11, 15
By Rev. Miriam Spies
Some commentators read this passage as a moment of reconciliation and forgiveness between family…or a story of redistributing food and wealth based on need, but the misuse of power and thinking we know the mind of God has harmful effects for Joseph’s family and for generations of people to come.
Joseph never actually extends words of forgiveness to his family. He plays with his brothers before revealing himself and his power. Joseph’s relationship with his family returns to the beginning of the story where he was described as a braggart and the family. He tells them God is the one who has sent him to save the people, but Joseph now gets to decide who lives and who dies. The power over people continues into the future, with consequences Joseph (the dream interpreter) did not foresee or disclose. Once people were in the land of Egypt, the land of plenty, they were put into slavery. The powers took everything people had in return for food, despite the initial show of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Those in leadership, government or church or other forms, have power. Power is a neutral concept, simply meaning access to greater resources, but can be used to help or harm those with fewer resources. These days, stories in the media are revolving around some provinces refusing to implement the federal carbon tax plan, increasing numbers of people migrating due to the devastating impacts of climate change from countries with a lower carbon footprint, and ocean and wildlife declining in both numbers and health. All of this is happening in the time we are supposed to be living up to the commitments and out of the hope for reconciliation between settlers and first peoples of this land. It seems like we know, and governments know, that actions have consequences now and into the future, but these are being blatantly ignored.
The setting in Genesis 45 reminds me of climate refugees seeking homes in so-called developed countries like Canada, the United States, and places in Europe. Pharaoh told Joseph to say to his family, “Do this: take wagons from the land of Egypt for your little ones and for your wives, and bring your father, and come. Give no thought to your possessions, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.’” Though the rhetoric around refugees is changing these days, Canada has had a history of promising safety, health, and prosperity for people seeking refuge. It has become similar to the promise of preserving life while the reality of life as a refugee does often not live up to its promise. Professionals seeking work are seen as having unsuitable credentials or qualifications, and so find work for which they are overqualified and underutilized. Migrant workers are brought for work, for sending resources to their families while some are mistreated. The façade of generosity is taken over by control – maintaining power and wealth in the hands of the few. Meanwhile, the promise of land and opportunity continues from a colonial perspective, without living up to the commitments of reconciliation, recognizing whose land we are occupying. Like Pharaoh and Joseph, we are making promises that build up our own ego without examining the impacts of power over people and land. And like Pharaoh and Joseph we are continuing to misuse power over and not demonstrating what holding power with one another could look like.
And so, although this scene in the Joseph story can be portrayed as an example of great forgiveness and great care for people, although governments can curate their narrative as how they are caring for the land and seeking to build upon restoring right relationships, we must be critical of who is telling the story, from whose perspective, and what power is being shared or controlled. If we announce, as Joseph did, God has done this to preserve life, we must be sure it means all of life – not only those lives that are deemed to be more valuable. By Joseph’s and Pharaoh’s action they are misrepresenting God’s will and causing more harm in the years to come. If our governments continue to use power to support the few, while naming it as for the many, more harm will come to the earth and to our relationship with each other and with God. If reconciliation is to be true, power must be redistributed.
Rev. Miriam Spies lives in Ancaster, Ontario, the traditional territory of the Haudensaunee and Anishnaabeg. This territory is covered by the Upper Canada Treaties and directly adjacent to Haldiman Treaty territory. I live in the watershed area of Lake Ontario. I am an ordained minister in The United Church of Canada, currently serving the Christian Reformed Church of North America working in the area of disability ministry and abuse awareness, prevention, and response.
Wild Lectionary is a weekly reflection on land, creation and environmental justice themes in the texts of the revised common lectionary, curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territories.