Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (Genesis 42) transports me on a family journey from famine to feast, with all sorts of treasures and treacheries hidden along the way. It is a journey of brotherhood gone bad and made good, of conflict and jealousy and betrayal and grief and need. I think of all the times I’ve seen a version of this brotherly drama played out in the movies – A Simple Plan, Raging Bull, We Own the Night, Slumdog Millionaire, the list could go on and on. Searching for the hidden treasure of brotherly love sometimes nets a happy result and feel-good ending (A Family Thing); sometimes not (The Godfather). The superb storyteller of today’s passage builds the tension and conflict without cluing the reader in on the outcome until the very end.
Pater familias Jacob sends ten sons from the drought-plagued Promised Land back to the amber waves of grain-rich Egypt to buy food for the family. They do not recognize little brother Joseph when they encounter him in his role as second in command of the Egyptian Empire. Prince Joe treasures this opportunity for payback, and like a narc cop gone bad, he accuses them of espionage, having planted as evidence some sweet silver revenge among the sacks of sweet corn. When they get home and Jacob spies the presumably stolen silver in their sacks, the Jacobsons are none too thrilled with the discovery. The incognito Joseph had struck a hard bargain with these brothers who had sold him into slavery: their freedom would come at the cost of bringing back his father’s real treasure – baby boy Benjamin. Jacob fears he is losing his favored son once again, and weeps, just as Joseph had wept at the sight of his brothers.
This is a wonderful drama of family intrigue and power plays and treasures of love and grace and mercy. The abundance of silver, and even the procurement of food abundant enough to last through the famine, these lose value in comparison to the abundance of love and grief and risk, all in the service of a miraculous family reunion. The sacred screenplay has much to teach, not the least of which is the richness of relationships, and the lengths to which we and God will go to restore broken families and help them discover the sometimes elusive treasure of grace. The loneliness of Joseph even as he sits on his seat of power surrounded by people doing his bidding, the long-held sorrow of Jacob over the loss of one son, even as he is surrounded by twelve other sons, these emotions connect with our own experiences of isolation and brokenness and grief that sometimes refuse to move through the stages toward acceptance. It is if they had spent all these years after the betrayal in a fog, thinking that a meaningless life was passing them by. Which gives me an idea for a soundtrack for this saga of secret identities and silver cups and reconciliation: This is for all the lonely people thinking that life has passed them by, Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup, And ride that highway in the sky.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.