Saturday, March 31, 2018

Daily Devotion for Lent 2018 - Day 40, Holy Saturday

Scripture Reading: Genesis 49 (NRSV)

Jacob dies in the way many people would like to go.  He is surrounded by his family and is able to speak to each of them before passing.  He is long-lived and successful.  He retains his mental faculties to the end.  He dies peacefully in his bed.  I wouldn't mind this as an ending to my life!

Death may allow us to contemplate 
who we are in this world and what impact
we will leave.
But there are also parts of this story that I would omit for my final breath.  Jacob has a different word for each of his sons.  These blessings are like a prophesy and some (Judah and Joseph) are better than others (Reuben and Issachar).  In fact, Simeon and Levi are actually cursed by their father.  Many scholars believe that this text came to its final form from redactors or editors within the southern kingdom of Judah.  This would make one wonder if these final words from Jacob were touched up in light of history rather than projected into the future.  Certainly, it is interesting that Judah shines pretty brightly!  I do find it fascinating that Levi comes across so poorly since he represented the priestly line.  Priests and the Temple in Jerusalem would likely have been active during this final draft.

The Gospels don't contain any report about Jesus having any friendly relations among the priests.  Even though modern ears may think more quickly of the enemies of Jesus as the Pharisees, Jesus actually did have some friends among them such as Nicodemus.  We hear of what Jesus thought of the priests in the parable of the Good Samaritan.  It was the priest that is more concerned about his ritual purity than he is about helping someone in their hour of need.

Jesus causes a commotion outside the Temple when he drives out the moneychangers.

The Gospels report that it was the chief priests that conspired to kill him.  They had the resources to have him arrested.  The Pharisees had no authority to do this.

Matthew 26:62-68 reminds us of the priestly role in the death of Jesus:
The high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?”  But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”  Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you,
From now on you will see the Son of Man
    seated at the right hand of Power
    and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?” They answered, “He deserves death.” Then they spat in his face and struck him; and some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah!  Who is it that struck you?”

On this Holy Saturday as we remember his burial, it is helpful for us to recognize that the establishment can easily become the persecutor.  As an ordained pastor, this is a sobering passage to read.  May God forgive us when our sense of righteousness leads us to injure another in order to "protect" God's sense of honor.

Lord God,
in our prayers for our country as we remember especially 
the men and women who powerfully influence the life of society:
   those who fashion our politics,
   those who frame and administer our laws,
   those who mold public opinion through the press, radio and television,
   those who write what many read.
May all such recognize their responsibility to you and to the nation, 
that people may be influenced for what is good, not evil;
for what is true, not false;
for the glory of your name.

Prayer by Frank Colquhoun, priest, Church of England, 20th Century

Photo by SLR Jester via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Daily Devotion for Lent 2018 - Day 39, Good Friday

Scripture Reading: Genesis 48 (NRSV)

Ephraim and Manasseh as the sons of Joseph are blessed by their grandfather, Jacob.  In fact, Jacob actually adopts the two grandsons as full sons meaning that they would inherit alongside their father and their uncles.

As the twelve sons of Jacob (renamed Israel) represent the twelve tribes of Israel and their territorial holdings, we may remember that Levi becomes the priestly tribe and holds no geographical territory.  Ephraim and Manasseh take the place regionally of their father Joseph and of Levi.  This makes twelve tribal designations for the land.  If you look upon a map of ancient Israel, you will see Ephraim and Manasseh occupying the middle of the country.

Sometimes the younger overtakes
the elder on the road.
Jacob's poor eyesight reminds one of his own father Isaac.  In a fit of irony, we see Jacob bless his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh opposite to their birth order.  Of course, this is exactly what Isaac did when Jacob tricked him and took Esau's blessing.  Joseph tries to correct his father as if he is simply senile but his crafty father knows exactly what he is doing.

Once again, we see the (now) long tradition of the younger usurping the elder in prominence.

Jesus turns inheritance on its head in dealing with the religious institution of his day.  It was thought that the chief priests and the Pharisees would be spiritually superior to most people of the day.  They would be seen as the oldest son - the heir - the ones to inherit the kingdom of God.

Jesus then tells them this parable in Matthew 21:28-32:

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’  He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went.  The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go.  Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.  For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

What is interesting is that the Bible itself prescribes how inheritance is to operate legally in their system.  Then it seems as if God defies convention in order to achieve the divine plans.  As Christians, we understand in our heads that grace overcomes law.  Yet, we want to stick with the defined rules.  After all, to ignore all rules is to invite chaos to reign.  So maybe the way of the Spirit is to know when is the right time to do what needs to be done.

This is dangerous territory.  To discern this kind of timing requires a lot of prayer from the people.

And then it requires courage.  And lest we take the breaking of law too lightly, this was exactly what the chief priests thought they were doing in conspiring against Jesus.

Arise, O sun of righteousness, upon us,
with healing in your wings;
make us children of the light and of the day.
Show us the way in which we should walk,
for unto you, O Lord,
do we lift up our souls.
Dispel all mists of ignorance which cloud our understandings.
Let no false suggestion either withdraw our hearts 
from the love of your truth,
or form the practice of it in all the actions of our lives;
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Prayer by Thomas Sherlock, Bishop, Church of England, 18th Century

Photo by born1945 via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Daily Devotion for Lent 2018 - Day 38, Maundy Thursday

Scripture Reading: Genesis 47 (NRSV)

The famine has finally taken its toll upon the land.  People are selling all they have just to survive.

Joseph interpreted the dream of Pharaoh which foretold this calamity.  He made provision to store up grain during the good years in order to get them through the difficult years.
Sometimes slavery is masked as life-giving
but it is always demeaning to both slave and master.

Now Joseph is making Pharaoh very wealthy through his foresight.  The livestock, the property and the very lives of the people become Pharaoh's.  While this is shrewd business, it does not grant freedom or life to the people.  They have become pawns on the chessboard.

It sounds like just good business when you are the owner.  But if you are the "owned" the narrative changes.  His own people will suffer for 400 years as slaves because Joseph did not choose to be merciful.  He could have simply earned the goodwill of all of Egypt and beyond by sharing what he had.  Neither Pharaoh or Joseph earned the grain they stored during the good years.  They were only able to store it because they saw in a vision from God that this famine was coming.

A good leader serves the people rather than seeks to become wealthy from them.  A good leader does not seek to own the people he or she serves.

Jesus may have reflected on this when he was asked to raise two of his disciples above the others in Matthew 20:20-28:

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him.  And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.”  But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?" They said to him, “We are able.”  He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers.  But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.  It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

When our team dominates another in sports, we consider it a great victory.  When we dominate another in life, it is demeaning to the life of the other.  We have to learn to leave some behavior on the playing field.  Jesus teaches us a better way - a way that shares life with the world.  If we practice this way, could we ease the misery and suffering of future generations?

Pour into our hearts the spirit of unselfishness,
so that, when our cup overflows,
we may seek to share our happiness with our siblings.
O God of love,
who makes your sun to rise on the evil and on the good,
and sends rain on the just and the unjust,
grant that we may become more and more your true children,
by receiving into our souls more of your own spirit
of ungrudging and unwearying kindness;
which we ask in the name of Jesus Christ.

Prayer by John Hunter, Congregational minister, England, early 20th century

Photo by Alan via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Daily Devotion for Lent 2018 - Day 37, Wednesday of Holy Week

Scripture Reading: Genesis 46 (NRSV)

The procession of Jacob and all his family down to Egypt is bittersweet.  We know the rest of the story.  This ends with the people of Israel being subjugated for 400 years.  Even though that ends with their freedom, there were generations that only knew slavery.

This was a way to preserve their heritage.  It allowed them to live through the immediate threat of famine.  We also don't know what threats could have emerged in Canaan during these years that could have wiped everyone out.  Plagues in that day were especially deadly and a tribe in its infancy as they were could have been very susceptible to disease.

God tells Jacob in the dream not to be afraid.  His family would become a great nation.  The prosperity of his offspring would be reflected in the increased numbers.  If this doesn't outweigh the difficulties they would face as captives, it at least helps us to see past the suffering.

Shepherds keep the sheep together.
Sometimes they wander off, but the shepherd knows
that life comes with the herd.
We hear of the derogatory Egyptian outlook on shepherds at the end of the chapter.  The nomadic lifestyle seems at odds with those urbanites who make permanent residences.  To set up buildings that last is the epitome of Egyptian culture.  The pyramids are markers that continue even to this day.  What is a tent dwelling in comparison?

And yet, cities are fed by these shepherds.  Though they look at them with contempt, they have a strange symbiosis in that the shepherds supply them with meat and the cities supply the shepherds with needed trade goods.

It wasn't much different in the time of Jesus.

And yet, as consistent with their heritage, the angels come to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus.  Jesus tells many stories involving shepherds and sheep.  And we see the wonderful image that Jesus shares in John 10:11-18:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.  For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

Within today's reading, the Egyptians of yesteryear might not acknowledge that there could be a "good shepherd." The Romans in the first century might not have understood this imagery either.  But we know of one.  He keeps the wolf at bay.

As the rain hides the stars,
as the autumn mist hides the hills,
as the clouds veil the blue of the sky,
so the dark happenings of my lot hide the shining of your face from me.
Yet, if I may hold your hand in darkness, it is enough.
Since I know that, though I may stumble in my going,
you do not fall.  

Prayer from unknown source, traditional Celtic.

Photo by Nick Amoscato via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Daily Devotion for Lent 2018 - Day 36, Tuesday of Holy Week

Scripture Reading: Genesis 45 (NRSV)

We finally get to the big reveal in today's chapter.  Joseph drops his mask and shows his brothers who he really is.  It is a little confusing that he inquires as to their father's life in that Judah was just telling Joseph how upset losing Benjamin would be to Jacob.

As I read between the lines, I almost laugh at the line from verse three, "his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence."

I bet they were dismayed!  They were probably terrified!

Has he been stringing us along and now he's going to drop the hammer?

When he calls them to come closer in the next verse, I can almost see the hesitance as they pull in to their brother.  You would be tentative in your approach!

Cats can often represent our ability to 
hold a grudge.
We see Joseph's graciousness on display here.  They are in his power and he grants them reprieve from their former betrayal of him.  Joseph is even able to see God's hand at work through the hardships he had to endure.  After he spends time with each of his brothers, I think their mood is telling in his instructions for them not to quarrel on the way home.

Jesus exemplifies this graciousness in his ministry.  He predicts the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter and the desertion of his disciples.  Yet, he doesn't fire them all from being his followers.  Outside of Judas, who died, Jesus continues to work through them long after the resurrection.

This kind of mercy can only be shown from strength.  Joseph knows who he is.  He recognizes God working in his life.  Jesus also knows who he is and similarly, sees God at work in his life.  We see this in his movement to prayer following the difficulties listed above.

Unfortunately, betrayals burn all the more brightly from those we love.  They often leave us bitter.  We can get over the hurts but sometimes, they still make us hot when we think on them.  Forgiving others is the powerful anecdote to the bitterness we know is not doing us any good.  It comes from the strength of self that we find in God.

"Forgive our sins as we forgive,"
you taught us, Lord, to pray;
but you alone can grant us grace
to live the words we say.

How can your pardon reach and bless
the unforgiving heart
that broods on wrongs
and will not let old bitterness depart?

In blazing light your cross reveals
the truth we dimly knew:
what trivial debts are owed to us,
how great our debt to you!

Lord, cleanse the depths within our souls,
and bid resentment cease;
then, bound to all in bonds of love,
our lives will spread your peace.

Prayer from the hymn, "Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive" written by Rosamond E. Herklots, 1966.

Photo by UnknownNet Photography via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Daily Devotion for Lent 2018 - Day 35, Monday of Holy Week

Scripture Reading: Genesis 44 (NRSV)

The prank of Joseph is playing itself out and his own father is now becoming the victim of his deceitfulness.  This shows us what happens when we engage in the practice of vengeance - even if it is done as a humorous way to teach a lesson.

It is also interesting that Joseph speaks of divination as a normal practice in the usage of his silver cup in verses 5 and 15.  We are unclear if he is speaking of his actual practice or of a practice that they would assume he uses and he is simply playing into a stereotype for his own benefit.  Later, we see that Deuteronomy outlaws this practice declaring that God finds the practitioner abhorrent.

As the story unfolds, Judah is the one to intervene.  He puts his own life on the line and anguishes over how this would hurt his father Jacob.  Judah doesn't even seem bothered by the idea that his own father prefers his younger half-brother Benjamin to him.  Or he is at least resigned to it.
Sometimes we are frustrated with those we love.
But in the end, we do what we can to help each other.

I believe that Judah is the one taking responsibility because he knows firsthand what it is like to outlive his sons.  In chapter 38, we see that his two oldest boys, Er and Onan die.  In his grief, Judah fails to live up to his family duty so we can see how devastating this must have been for him.

As we fast forward to the time of Jesus, we're not sure what happens to his earthly father, Joseph.  We do know that John the Baptist who was a cousin to Jesus and possibly a mentor of sorts, dies violently at the hands of the government.  When they report this troublesome news to Jesus, Matthew 14:13 tells us, "Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself."

Grief and the loss of loved ones is difficult for people even under the best of circumstances.  It impacts each of us in our own way.  I try to remind people that we each handle grief a little differently.  There is no real timetable for "getting over it."

As we think about those who may possibly suffer from grief, like Jacob in today's reading, may we try to adopt the stance of Judah and do what we can to alleviate it.  

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Prayer by St. Francis of Assisi, 13th Century

Photo of Sheryl & David Powers, taken August 5, 2017 near Ithaca, New York by the author.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Daily Devotion for the Sixth Sunday in Lent (Passion/Palm Sunday) 2018

Scripture Reading: Genesis 43 (NRSV)

Joseph's dream about his brothers bowing down to him comes true in this chapter.  It seems to be pretty deceptive on Joseph's part to carry the ruse out this long.  He even has to leave the room to compose himself!

I wondered about his brother Simeon who remained in prison while the brothers returned home from Egypt, ate up all the grain they bought and then made the journey back to Egypt.  His anxiety would likely have been pretty high but we remember that Joseph also remained in prison for several years before his release.

Sometimes eating together can put us at ease.
In a show of irony, we see the report that the Egyptians of that time did not eat with Hebrews because that was considered an abomination for them.  Later, as we see the dietary laws introduced, Hebrews would refuse to eat with Egyptians or any other Gentiles for the same reason!

The great feast they share together seems to be an unknown foreshadowing of future Passover feasts.  The Passover is the Jewish celebration of freedom from Egypt.  The men in this story are still free Israelites but their descendants will become slaves to the Egyptians.  As we acknowledge Passion Sunday today, we remember how Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples shortly before his arrest.

Just as their were 12 sons of Jacob in today's reading, Jesus shares this new covenant with his 12 disciples.

Feasting with one another should reconcile us.  It should allow us to drop any falseness we have between us.  We remember the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:

So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.

This is a good thing to remember as we begin Holy Week.

God of all love, you gave us your Son Jesus Christ, the great reconciler of humankind.
Help us Lord through Him to look to live together as one people.
Help us, God, to come together in the bonds of peace and love
and to put aside the chains of prejudice and hatred.
Just as we are all one in death, Lord, help us to be one in life.
During this time of recognizing that we are sorry for all the sins of the past,
help us, Lord, to look to a future where the cultures of this ancient land
are seen to be enriching to the souls of all people.
Help us, God of grace, to say sorry, to hear sorry, and to live with forgiveness.
God of all our dreaming, hear our prayer.  Amen.

This prayer was written for Reconciliation Week 2014 by The Reverend Bruce Boase, Priest in Charge of The Anglican Community of Green Hills Diocese of Brisbane. The Anglican Church of Southern Queensland, Australia. 13th May 2014.

Photo by Dion Hinchcliffe via  Used under the Creative Commons license. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Daily Devotion for Lent 2018 - Day 34, Saturday

Scripture Reading: Genesis 42 (NRSV)

Imagine opening your sack of grain and finding
your money on top after you were accused of being a spy!
Joseph is shown in this chapter to have some of the trickster in him - likely he got it from his father, Jacob.  Joseph's brothers do not recognize him.  He would be dressed as an Egyptian with his hair and beard in their style.  He would have matured in his face and body.  Probably the greatest reason they didn't recognize him is that there would have been no expectation for their brother to be in this position of authority.

Joseph accuses them of spying.  If we think about how our own government today would react to suspected spies or terrorists, this charge seems a lot more serious.  They could be detained, imprisoned, tortured or killed.  Joseph then ups the ante by returning their money to their sacks.

After they get home, we continue to see the favoritism of their father.  When Reuben declares that Jacob could kill his two sons if he failed to bring back Benjamin, you wonder if he is saying this as hyperbole or if this would have been a serious statement in that day.  My hope is exaggeration but if not, it directly expresses a lack of individual rights for children.  Even if said as a brash statement, you would wonder how it would make his sons feel!

I like how the brothers turn to their own guilty consciences over selling Joseph as the reasoning for their difficulty.  The irony that the reader sees is that they have hit the nail on the head!

Although Jesus never said, "You reap what you sow", he did say things along the same philosophical line in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?  In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus you will know them by their fruits.

While not exactly the same as karma, Jesus indicates that our actions show our true natures.  The actions of the brothers show that they were not honorable.  And so they are being treated as such when they show up to Egypt.  They are being cut down and thrown into the fire.  Unfortunately, Jacob is also paying the price while the prank plays out.  His own days of playing the trickster may be coming back to haunt him!

During Lent, we often consider our own actions and see how we measure up.  Are there things we've done that are waiting to catch up to us?  Ultimately, we are all in need of mercy for them.  We ask for help to live up to that gift.

God of Grace
forgive our ingratitude
for the blessings we have received.
Help us live the lives we proclaim.
God of Peace
forgive our impatience
with the actions of our neighbour.
Help us live the lives we proclaim.
God of love
forgive our intolerance
toward those of other faiths or none.
Help us live the lives we proclaim.
God of mercy
forgive our reluctance
to offer a word of forgiveness.
Help us live the lives we proclaim.
God of hope
accept our repentance
as a sweet-smelling offering
along with the service of our lives. Amen

Prayer Copyright © John Birch, 2016,

Photo by World Bank Photo Collection via

Prayer and photo both used under the Creative Commons license.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Daily Devotion for Lent 2018 - Day 33, Friday

Scripture Reading: Genesis 41 (NRSV)

As a child, I always felt sorry for the seven healthy
cows eaten by the sickly ones in the dream.
Joseph has a real advantage in today's reading.  God is in charge of the universe and God is willing to give Joseph some advanced knowledge on what will happen.

After two long, long years, Joseph is finally remembered by the cupbearer.  He successfully interprets Pharaoh's dream and is rewarded by being put in charge of everything in Egypt not named Pharaoh.  Joseph must come across as very sincere as it would take many years before you could begin to judge the accuracy of his interpretation.  Although Genesis is silent about it, maybe God nudges Pharaoh to accept Joseph's words as valid.

It is a bit like insider trading.  Joseph allows Egypt to prosper due to their (literal) foresight and planning.  All the known world comes to Egypt for food.  Grain being stored up "like the sand of the sea" reminds the reader of God's promise of offspring to Abraham.  Joseph claims an Egyptian wife which may not be ideal, but it was consistent with family tradition as Abraham's first concubine, Hagar, was also Egyptian.  Joseph's marriage to the daughter of a local priest is similar to Moses marrying Zipporah who was the daughter of a Midianite priest.  However, this event is still about 400 years away.

Joseph certainly has a wisdom about how to take advantage of circumstance.  I'm reminded of the how Jesus ends the Sermon on the Mount:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.  The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

The wise prepare for the worst while the foolish look for the easy way out.  As we think of individual prosperity or suffering, I wonder how often I store up grain for myself when things are going well?  Am I remaining in prayer during these times or do I only bow down when things are faltering?

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment,
and light rises up in darkness for the godly;
give us, in all our doubts and uncertainties
the grace to ask what you would have us to do;
that the spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices,
and that in your light we may see light
and in your straight path may not stumble;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Prayer by William Bright, Anglican priest, 19th Century

Photo by MICOLO J Thanx via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Daily Devotion for Lent 2018 - Day 32, Thursday

Scripture Reading: Genesis 40 (NRSV)

The above movie is also about a prisoner
who has great influence on those
around him.
This story of Joseph almost feels like a folk tale with a happy ending for the cupbearer and a tragic ending for the chief baker.  

We see that Joseph is not just a good person but also has a talent for interpreting dreams.  These dreams portend the future and we remember that Joseph had already had dreams of greatness for himself.  As we see him successfully predict for these two royal workers, we remember his own dream and renew our hope that Joseph has not seen his best days yet.  We begin to believe that Joseph will rise up again.  As I imagine Joseph pining away in jail, I project an optimism on him as he must have also remembered his early dreams.  Seeing the recent predictions come to fruition must have buoyed his spirits.

This begs the question, do you believe the future can be predicted?  Are there certain things that are set in stone or are they merely likely to happen?

Jesus predicted his own death on the cross multiple times.  Had this already happened in a future history?  Was it inevitable?  Was it just an extremely probable event?  Or was there a possibility that he could have avoided it if people had really taken his teachings to heart?  I prefer to think of it as the latter which places the blame squarely on humanity's shoulders, making Lent all the more the season for repentance.  While I don't think it is healthy to flounder in guilt, I also don't think it is healthy to ignore our own role in systemic violence.

Fortunately, the cross has become a sign of hope.  Just as Joseph languishes in prison looking for a better future, we sometimes live in the shadow of the cross, believing that resurrection will come to our lives.  We believe that resurrection will come to those suffering or imprisoned.  For us, this is not hope in vain but hope in the inevitable.

O God, you rule over your creation with tenderness,
offering fresh hope in the midst of the most terrible misery.
We pray for our brother whose soul is blackened by despair,
infusing him with the pure light of your love.
As he curses the day he was born and yearns for oblivion,
reveal to him the miracle of new birth which shall prepare him for the joys of heaven.

Prayer by Dimma, Ireland, 7th Century

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Daily Devotion for Lent 2018 - Day 31, Wednesday

Scripture Reading: Genesis 39 (NRSV)

Some in prison seem to keep their eyes on the light.
Joseph is an enigma.  Things seem to go his way and yet, things also seem to fall apart.  He found
favor in his father's sight even though he wasn't the eldest son.  Yet this put him in disfavor of his brothers and they sold him as a slave.

Then he finds favor in his master Potiphar's house and was put in charge of everything.  But when Potiphar's wife comes on to him, he rebuffs her until she frames him for doing the exact thing he refused to do.  So he ends up in jail.

But while in prison, he gains the confidence of the chief jailor who gives him greater authority.  So even as Joseph finds favor with those who have authority over him, other circumstances seem to have him spiraling downward from where he started:

Middle of the pack in his family.

Slave in a foreign household.

Prisoner in an Egyptian jail.

In the midst of his worsening conditions, Joseph doesn't have a harsh word - at least one that we hear.  His main comment is in regard to doing the right thing before the Lord.  And God remains with him no matter what.

Jesus had obviously found favor with God.  He performs many miracles.  When he is finally arrested and brought forward before Pilate, he seems to also keep his mouth shut like Joseph.  This may be a quiet confidence that God remains with him.

Mark 15:2-5 states:

Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.” Then the chief priests accused him of many things.  Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.”  But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

Jesus is also headed toward trouble.

Abandoned by his disciples.

Arrested by the religious guards.

Turned over to the Roman authorities.

And yet, as we believe that we haven't seen the last of Joseph, we remember that not even the cross will stop the life-giving power of Jesus.

This should lift us up when we encounter danger or difficulty in our lives.  We, too, can live with a quiet confidence that God remains with us and will continue to bless us.  This certainly puts things in perspective!

Grant, O God, that amidst all the discouragements, difficulties and dangers,
distress and darkness of this mortal life,
I may depend upon your mercy,
and on this build my hopes, as on a sure foundation. 
Let your infinite mercy in Christ Jesus deliver me from despair,
both now and at the hour of death.

Prayer by Thomas Wilson, Bishop, Church of England, 18th Century

Photo by Alessandro via  Used under the Creative Commons license.