Thursday, March 01, 2012

Joseph and Injustice

Thursday, March 1, 2012 -- Week of 1 Lent
David, Bishop of Menevia, Wales, c. 544

Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 953)
Psalms 50 (morning)        [59, 60] or 19, 46 (evening)
Genesis 39:1-23
1 Corinthians 2:14 - 3:15
Mark 1:1-12

There is something wonderfully compelling and entertaining about the story of Joseph in Potiphar's house.  It is like so many fine tales from fiction.  Charles Dickens could have done nice work with this plot.

Joseph is the victim of his brothers' jealousy.  He has narrowly escaped death, but at the cost of his freedom.  He has been sold into slavery.  It is a fate that has broken many.  But Joseph is resilient and talented, and he applies himself to his new circumstances.  For the writer the main point is always present just under the surface of the narrative -- God watches over God's beloved.

It appears that Joseph has made his way nicely within the confines of his slavery.  He has risen to a position of authority among those who serve in Potiphar's house.  But the intrigue of sex and lust turns things around.  When Joseph loyally resists the advances of Potiphar's wife, she frames him, accusing him of sexual attack. 

It is worth pausing here to acknowledge the affects of powerlessness and power imbalance.  How the powerful can abuse the powerless is not just a literary device.  It is a reality of life throughout our culture and our world.  How much of the scripture's story revolves around the misuse of power.  The powerful have an obligation to use their power not for their own interests, but on behalf of the vulnerable and powerless.  Justice is the right use of power.

We leave Joseph today in jail.  Yet in the jail we see him continuing to exercise his character and leadership even within his confinement.  We know, and he knows, that God is with him.

I am reminded of my friend Jonathan Chavez.  He is a Joseph-like character.  Jonathan was brought to this country as a child.  When he turned 18, he became a criminal in the eyes of our immigration system.  Jonathan graduated with a 4.0 from high school, earned a music scholarship to college, and is an active Christian leader in our community.  Without documentation, he cannot get a driver's license.  Over the 2010 Christmas break, Jonathan was arrested in Florida as he got off the bus on a visit to his mother.  The INS rounded up brown people, asking for their papers as they got off the bus.  Like Joseph, young Jonathan was thrown into prison.

In prison, Jonathan organized church services and Bible classes, he taught English to Spanish speaking detainees, and he translated the sermons offered by visiting chaplains.  He speaks of that time in jail as a rich time of witness for him.  Like Joseph, he sensed God's presence with him and believed God was guiding his path.

Thanks in large measure to the good efforts of the University of Arkansas and the advocacy of Chancellor David Gearhart, Jonathan was able to be released to return to school.  With support from volunteers at the Law School, he is hopeful that he might have a pathway to avoid deportation.  The recent compassionate change of enforcement policies may give Jonathan a window to earn his residency and eventually citizenship in the country that is now his home. 

Jonathan lives with the faith and confidence that the Joseph-story chronicles.  He has absolute faith that God is directing his way.  He is joyful, resilient and untiring in his own call to live faithfully and to use his gifts for God's glory.  He has already experienced powerlessness in the face of an unjust system, and he has known himself to be sustained by God.  There is within him a goodness and power that is greater than the brokeness and injustice of a sick immigration system.  God is with him.  Jonathan will be fine.

The question now concerns Egypt.  Will Egypt do justly and allow character and goodness to be exercised to its benefit?  Or will Egypt be unjust, and create the circumstances for suffering and for God's wrath.  The U.S. is Egypt.  Will our nation continue to persecute those who have been unable to immigrate legally in a broken system that prevents the dreams of good people, or will we allow the character and goodness of those who would give their gifts to our nation?  There are thousands of Josephs trapped and detained in our unjust immigration system.  There are thousands of others brought here by traders under desperate situations, only looking for an opportunity to exercise their gifts. 

How will we use our power over them?  


Audio podcast:  Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week.  Click the following link:
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About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at -- Click for online Daily Office
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location -- --  Click for Divine Hours

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

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Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


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