With that, Joseph hurried out, because he was overcome with affection for his brother, and he was about to weep. So he went into a private room and wept there. – Genesis 43:30
James, the brother of our Lord, said to the first Christians, “My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?” (James 2:1).
Last Sunday night in Bible Study with our youth, Mary Louise and I read James’ reflection on the poison of favoritism. And it prompted us to tell the story of Joseph – the context for our verse for today.
You know the story of Jacob and his sons, right? Jacob was a scoundrel. Favoritism probably prompted it. His father loved his twin – Esau, a manly (and very hairy) man. His mother loved the more genteel Jacob, and prompted the younger twin to steal the birthright from his seconds-older-sibling. (Favoritism in families can be poison.)
Esau was furious, and Jacob ran for his life. The young scoundrel wound up on Laban’s “farm,” fell in love with Laban’s daughter, and made a deal to work for seven years to win young Rachel’s hand in marriage. But Jacob-the-con-man got conned himself. Again favoritism reared his head. Laban favored marrying off his eldest daughter first, and Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah. (And then having to work seven more years for Laban before being allowed to marry his second wife – Laban’s second daughter – Rachel.)
But favoritism in families can be poison. The elder Leah – because of an act of favoritism – was married, but she was not really loved. Jacob loved Rachel – favoritism. But Leah was the one who could have the children. From Leah’s side, ten sons. And only then was Rachel able to conceive. Two sons were born. And guess who Jacob favored – his two sons from his most favorite wife. (Favoritism in families can be poison.)
Joseph doted on especially the elder of Rachel’s sons, Joseph. A symbol of this favoritism was the techni-color dream coat which Jacob gave Joseph. Joseph, in turn, acted sometimes like the spoiled brat he was being raised to be. God gave Joseph the ability to interpret dreams. A proud and condescending Joseph was only too glad to tell his eleven brothers about the eleven bundles of wheat (them) which would bow to the one upright bundle (him).
Favoritism can be poison. The ten sons of Leah plotted to kill their half-brother, Joseph. Fortunately, a caravan heading to Egypt just happened to be passing by at the moment of impending murder. Why kill your brat of a brother when you can get rid of him and make a profit, by selling him into slavery?
That’s how Joseph wound up in Egypt. His ability to interpret dreams allowed Joseph to rise in influence in Egypt, saving that powerful nation from famine. And desperate for food, Jacob’s sons came to Egypt begging. Joseph’s ten half-brothers wound up in front of the second most powerful man in Egypt – Joseph – whom they surely didn’t recognize.
Now, God had worked on Joseph’s heart. He knew that Jacob’s favoritism (and his own prideful behavior) had led the sons of the least-favorite-wife to get rid of the eldest son of Jacob’s most-favorite-wife. And Joseph – still unrecognized by this brothers – had only one question: What was the fate of the other son of Jacob’s most-favorite-wife? What, indeed, was the fate of Benjamin?
Joseph feared the worst. Could they have treated Benjamin with as much anger as they treated him? So he arranged for them to bring Benjamin to him. And “with that” – when Joseph saw Benjamin – “Joseph hurried out, because he was overcome with affection for his brother.”
Now, was that favoritism too? It could have been. The bond between Joseph and Benjamin was surely strong. But I think a different emotion filled Joseph. He realized that the dynamics in his dysfunctional family had dramatically changed. The ten angry half-brothers no longer had hatred in their hearts. They’d seen the effects of grief on their father – distraught over Joseph’s apparent death – and now took care of Benjamin, in spite of a favoritism that was surely still being poured on the youngest.
Compassion was new in this family, and Joseph would soon act with great compassion on his brothers who had once been enemies.
Favoritism is poison – while compassion, forgiveness, and intentional unity are deeply healing. James calls for that in the church. Genesis shows us why.
In Christ’s Love,
a guy who probably
deserved to be thrown
in a bit and sold
by this brothers
(The oldest who
surely acted superior
now and then)