Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Race that Knows Joseph

When I was reading the Anne of Green Gables books to my daughter, I noted that one of the characters would say in speaking of a friend, "She is one of the race that knows Joseph," and I was curious about that phrase. I knew that it must be a Biblical reference and I finally figured out that it came from Exodus 1. 
Then a new king, who knew nothing of Joseph came to power in Egypt. He said to his subjects, "Look how numerous and powerful the Israelite people are growing, more so than we ourselves! Come, let us deal shrewdly with them to stop their increase; otherwise, in time of war they too may join our enemies to fight against us, and so leave our country."
When I came across this passage in the Office of Readings on Thursday, I realized that it's a pretty good parallel to the situation of Christians in the United States and in much of the world today.

By using the gifts that God had given him, Joseph saved the Egyptian nation in a time of famine. The people of that time, even the Pharaoh, honored him, and therefore the Hebrews found a safe haven in Egypt. After the passing of many, many years, however, the Egyptians had forgotten Joseph and the good that he had done, and had learned to fear and hate the Hebrews because of their prosperity and strength.

I don't think I need to say much about how Christians are now in a situation similar to that of the Hebrews. It did catch me by surprise several years back when I realized how poorly we are regarded, and by how many people. A couple of generations of children have been taught about the disservice that Christian missionaries did the Native Americans, for example, and not taught about any of the ways that Christian virtue undergirds the fabric of our country.

More surprising, perhaps, is that many of the people who have a poor opinion of Christianity are Christians. In the past eight years, I have had to interview hundreds of Protestant ministers and one of the questions that I have to ask is something like, "Do you think the world's problems would be solved if everyone was converted to Christianity?" Now I know that that question calls for more than just a flat out yes, for instance, it would have to be a real conversion, but only a small minority give any kind of positive answer at all. Probably around half just say no, and frequently, they give a little laugh before they say no.

So, what are we to do to defend ourselves against this mistaken reputation that we have? I see a lot of people trying to put up a defense, but I wonder who is listening. And I wonder if it is our business to be defending ourselves. The scripture makes it pretty clear that the Lord is our defense. Peter says, "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope ...," but that's different from always being on the defensive. He then says, "For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil."

Perhaps what we need to be doing with our time in this time when we are looked down upon is what we ought always to be doing in any time, which is what we will hear over and over in the readings for Lent--something like this passage from Isaiah from the Office of Readings for Ash Wednesday,
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish; releasing those bound unjustly,  untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke;Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.
In other words, we need to be practicing the corporal works of mercy, and not just giving alms, but, in a sense, being alms--giving ourselves. Looking the suffering in the face until our hearts are rent and we have no choice but to help.

The one thing that really bothers me about public assistance is that it has led in many ways to an evisceration of the work of the Church in this respect. Much of what used to be done by religious and other Christians in the way of healthcare and the education and feeding of the poor has been handed over lock, stock and barrel to the government. Instead of receiving Charity in the real sense of the word, i.e. the love of God, people are given a cold, dehumanizing kind of help, often from people who hold them in contempt. It's a tragic loss for the poor and an even more tragic loss for the Church.

I am probably the last person in the world that should be preaching this. For years and years I have stood in church feeling pretty good about what I was hearing from the pulpit until we got to readings like this. I would think, "I just don't do this. I don't." So lately, I have been making some small efforts. I was really fearful at first, but that fear immediately melted away to the point where I couldn't really tell you anymore what I was afraid of. I don't really have much more to say about it at the moment, but I encourage you if you aren't doing anything along these lines to pray about some small thing you could do.

Which brings me back to Joseph. Joseph did not spend his time in Egypt in his own defense. In fact, he completely lacked the ability to defend himself. But when the opportunity came, he used his gifts to do God's Will and what that Will happened to be at the time was that he was to make sure that the people had something to eat when food was scarce, and because of this, he was held in high repute. We cannot, of course, engage in charitable works for the sake of our reputation. We have to be charitable for the love of Jesus, or we will become cold and jaded. That said, however, the result may be that people will come to love the Church through the acts that we do. And if they don't, well then we will be back with Peter, suffering, because it's God's Will, for doing good rather than evil.

AMDG

14 comments:

  1. This is really good. I'd like to say more but don't have time right now. Maybe tomorrow.

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  2. Oh hurrah! A comment! And one that says, "really good." I was getting ready to take down the blog. It's so disheartening to only get comments from pornhideaway.

    AMDG

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  3. I don't think your posts are the type of thing one can readily comment on Janet. More to chew over. But they are worth reading.

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    1. Except for pornhideaway, of course. They always have an opinion.

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    2. All my spammers are of the opinion that this is a very well-written blog--better than most--they will certainly visit again--and btw, I should visit their blog. Thankfully, their comments don't make it to the blog. I do love it that the new fashion in spamming is flattery.

      AMDG

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  4. Yes, what Paul said is right. The fact that I don't comment on a post doesn't mean I didn't like it. Frequently I read it, like it, think about it a bit, but either just don't have anything to add, or am too preoccupied to think of anything interesting to say. And it would soon sound meaningless to say "that's good" on *every* post, so I generally do it only on the ones that strike me as particularly good.

    The further comment I wanted to make on this one boils down to this: that "wise as serpents and harmless as doves" is especially apropos now. We need to see very clearly what is happening, and what has been happening for quite a long time now, but not respond with anger and outrage. However justified those may be, and even if you want to justify them by appeal to, for instance, Jesus cleansing the temple or his denunciations of the Pharisees, the effect will be only to harden the opposition, and make it easier for the enemy (by which I mean the Enemy) to further the image of Christians as hostile cranks.

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    1. Doubly yes about the Enemy. It's so hard to keep in mind who we are really fighting.

      AMDG

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  5. Yes, I think about that scripture frequently when I'mthinking about this topic. In fact, it has several times been part of the post that I've written in my head while I'm driving down the road, but flies away like a dove before I get to the keyboard.

    AMDG

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  6. Just want to say that I agree with Paul and Maclin about your posts being very much worth reading.

    And most of the time, any comment from me would be limited to "wow".

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  7. I am here too, Janet, and very much appreciative of what you say.

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  8. I just found your blog through a search on "the race that knows Joseph". I enjoyed reading it; I'll come back and read more.

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  9. I was thinking about the phrase, the race that knows Joseph today, mostly because I am thinking of its entire absence from my life. I seem to have been ordained to go through life alone, with no one who relates to my point of view. Having had a taste of this for a brief moment, it is very hard to do without. Some interesting ideas; I will definitely "chew" on them a little in my thoughts.

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  10. Thanks for commenting? Did you remember this post was here?

    AMDG

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