The story of Joseph being thrown into a pit by his brothers is a horrifying one. Reuben seems to be the only caring one in the bunch. He advocated for throwing Joseph in the pit and not murdering him so that later Reuben could return Joseph to their father. That isn’t what happened, though. After the brothers had thrown Joseph in the pit, some traders came by (Ishmaelites or Midianites) and Judah had the brilliant idea of selling Joseph and telling their father that Joseph had died. It’s an ugly story. One that eventually comes right but ugly nonetheless.
Some will respond to this story saying that it was God’s will for the brothers to sell Joseph into slavery because God needed Joseph in Egypt for when Pharaoh needed an advisor. However, attributing things to God’s will to justify the inexplicable is nonsense. It would be like saying the Holocaust was God’s will because it paved the way for reestablishing the state of Israel. Nonsense. In the case of Joseph, his brothers’ jealousy and hatred led them to do a horrible thing. Their hatred and jealousy of Joseph made them forget that Joseph was their brother. Their actions of throwing Joseph into the pit and then selling him into slavery had nothing to do with God. Later, when Joseph was useful to Pharaoh, that was God’s doing. God was in the redemption, not the sin. We need to stop blaming tragedy on the will of God and start looking at human behavior.
When we read this story of Joseph and his brothers, many of us are inclined to identify with Joseph or, maybe Reuben with his plan to rescue his baby brother. However, it seems to me that we as church, particularly white church, behave much more like the other brothers. We have allowed our fear to grow into hatred of too many of our siblings. The fear that feeds our systems of white supremacy and racism has us, at the very least, keeping our siblings in pits. Some of us are actively throwing our BIPOC siblings into pits and doing everything possible to keep them enslaved. Some of us are like Reuben and plan to save our siblings with little action to follow up on the plan. God may be trying to redeem our sins. However, there is so much resistance to liberating society from white supremacy, that God’s drive toward love and justice rarely comes through.
I’ve witnessed a trend on social media in recent weeks that underscores my point. When a person who is not white, cis gender, heterosexual, and, usually male, posts about an experience of “othering” by a white, cis gender, heterosexual, usually male, jumps in with a “well, I’m sure there’s a perfectly good explanation” for the hurtful behavior. This excuses the perpetrator of the harmful act and blames the victim. It also fortifies the systems that allow for othering. And another sibling is thrown into the pit and sold to protect the fragile feelings of those with the most privilege and power. This must stop. Isn’t it time we reached into the pit to give our siblings a hand up?
Hate, active or passive, is never God’s will. Acts of violence, public or private, are never God’s will. We are all children of God and, therefore, siblings. Every. Single. One of us. As Christians we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves and to care for the vulnerable among us. It’s time to stop selling out or siblings and tossing them into pits dug with irrational fear and hatred fueled by broken social systems. What would it take for all of us to take responsibility for the ways we have contributed to sustaining systems of white supremacy? Let’s stop attributing acts of fearful, hateful, violence to the will of God.
God has been trying to break through to us with the voices and actions of prophets for generations. 2020 has been a trying year for all of us. COVID-19 is not from God to test our faith. However, pandemic has revealed truths about our society in ways that cannot and should not be denied. Pandemic acts as a magnifier of our vulnerabilities, as individuals, as the church, as a society. Rather than abdicating responsibility by saying that this is all God’s will, let us make 2020 the year we elevate our siblings who have lived in pits of despair that we have dug and been enslaved by white supremacy for generations. Let us elevate the dreamers and visionaries, the prophets and teachers, the unseen, the forgotten, the unwanted, the devalued and the dismissed. By so doing we participate in God’s redeeming acts of love and grace – for all our siblings and for ourselves. Let’s make 2020 a year of lasting redemptive change.
RCL – Year A – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 9, 2020
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 with Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b or
1 Kings 19:9-18 with Psalm 85:8-13