Sunday, August 23, 2009

From Coat to Robes; or, Rejected to Rise

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!”

                        Genesis 45.4 

Beautiful Dreamer

Thanks to diligent Sunday school teachers everywhere, as well as Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Technicolor Dreamcoat, we can dispense with a detailed plot summary and get to the good stuff. Here are the headlines to jog our memories. Joseph is the youngest of Jacob’s 12 sons. His father gives him a colorfully ornamented coat to show his favoritism, while his Father favors him with the ability to have and interpret prescient dreams. Both gifts make his brothers jealous. They steal Joseph’s coat, sell him to slave traders, and tell Jacob wild animals killed him. Joseph ends up in Egypt, where his dream skills and integrity prompt his rise from household slave to governor second only to Pharaoh. Meanwhile, famine befalls his family, bringing his brothers to Egypt to buy grain. They bow before Joseph—just as his childhood dreams predicted—and after a bit of back-and-forth, he finally reveals his identity to them.

Joseph’s fancy, handmade coat has faded from his brothers’ memory and he sits before them, unrecognizable in richly tailored robes. The beautiful dreamer they “killed” is now a handsome ruler who holds their lives in his hands. They never dreamed of this when they shipped him off and forgot about him nearly 20 years earlier. But Joseph hasn’t forgot them, his dreams, and most important, his God. Indeed, confidence in promises imparted to him in dreams sustains him during his years of estrangement. And although Joseph embraces his brothers with heartfelt love and forgiveness, their reunion is bittersweet. Both sides suffered needlessly due to the brothers’ envy and insecurities. What’s more, when they rejected Joseph, they naïvely redirected Hebrew history. Selling their little brother into slavery ends in their people’s enslavement for generations to come.

Humbled by Force

The brothers’ primary mistake comes from foolishly thinking they’ll regain Jacob’s affection by eliminating Joseph. They hate him for being “different”—younger, innately wiser, and more talented than they. This is survival strategy, plain and simple, and it doesn’t work. It first backfires by grieving Jacob; he never fully recovers from the loss of his son and the brothers never receive the favor they crave. Second, faith they inherited from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob should alert them to expect their plot will fail. Yet human reasoning blinds them to God’s principles of love and justice. They forget His penchant for classic reversals.

Jesus provides a fine explanation—and moral—for Joseph’s saga in Matthew 23.12: “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” In this case, Joseph is humbled by force. He’s outnumbered and an outsider. He can’t change who he is. He can’t return the gifts he’s given; they come to him without asking, because of what his earthly father sees in him and what his heavenly Father shows him as he sleeps. Still, nowhere in Scripture do we find Joseph resist being humbled—not by his brothers, nor in Egypt, where he’s wrongly accused and imprisoned. He alone of Jacob’s sons lives by faith in God’s mercy. He rejects rejection to trust God’s favor and will for his life. Consequently, every setback turns into a leap forward.

Everlasting Pride and Joy

Every day, humility is forced on sincere believers. Their families and faith communities reject them because they don’t conform to “normal” attitudes and behaviors. Their gifts skew their view of the world through unique filters. As their perspectives assert themselves, others grow resentful of their self-confidence and assurance in God’s promises. They’re sold off, forgotten, and presumed dead. They land in strange countries, where they’re buffeted by further hostility and situations they can’t control. Yet those who remember the individuality and favor that precipitated their rejection will rise. The colorful coats they treasured will be replaced with royal robes. Their success in exile will one day lead those who humiliated them to turn to them in need.

Many of us presently stand at midpoint in this journey, halfway between homes we knew and fulfillment of dreams we’ve been given. We’re humbled by force. But we find strength in humility by trusting our dreams. What’s done is done. Looking back in anger and resentment only erodes our assurance we’ve been rejected to rise. This is God’s promise and He will deliver. If we accept our humbling, we will be exalted. Isaiah 60.14-15 says: “The sons of your oppressors will come bowing before you; all who despise you will bow down at your feet… Although you have been forsaken and hated, with no one traveling through, I will make you the everlasting pride and the joy of all generations.” God has richly favored each of us. The jealousy and insecurities of others have brought us low. Still, God’s glory shines in our lives. The pride and joy stolen from our lives will be returned in everlasting pride and joy that stands the test of time.

Rising out of rejection: “Close Every Door to Me” from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

(Tomorrow: It’s Good)

Postscript: Fran's Back!

Several weeks ago, the always astute and irrepressible Fran published the last post on her wildly popular FranIAm, leaving a gaping hole in the blogosphere. We who cherished her place as a lively, comfortable gathering spot sufficed by keeping in touch via her Facebook page. But it wasn't like hanging out with Fran in a place of her own. Well, for all of us who've felt a little lost since then, I'm delighted to hear she's launched a new blog, There Will Be Bread.

In the year or so since Fran found Straight-Friendly (and no one's better at finding new spots than she), we've become fast friends. She's been a constant source of encouragement and inspiration, both in her comments here as well as many long, offline conversations. During our talks, Fran said she felt led to redirect her focus from FranIAm's more general (though always faith-imbued) interests to topics more specifically centered on Christian experience and concerns. There Will Be Bread comes out of this.

If you've not yet got acquainted with Fran, now's the perfect time to do so. I'm thrilled to add There Will Be Bread to S-F's links roster. And I'm leaving the FranIAm link there also, for those who discover her at Bread and want to go back to see whence it came.

Fran, we can't wait to see where this new venture will take you--and all of us who travel and pray alongside you!


Anonymous said...

This is really beautifully pastoral. Tim, you have such a gentle faith. Thank you once again for a great and prayerful meditation.

And I'm lovin' the new Fran blog!

genevieve said...

A great lesson, Tim. I just thought of how far I've come in my journey. I know I can't go back. I can only trust God and move ahead. Being differently gendered, I have seen the rejection and hatred towards us. I know that God has made me this way and I'm grateful for the work he is doing in my life.

I will take a look at Fran's blog. It sounds very interesting.

johnmichael said...

This is one of my favorite stories!! I remember as a child a coloring book that showed his coat of many colors as patchwork. I remember coloring it with every different crayon.

Tim said...

MIssy, Genevieve, and JM, how delightful to open the comments and find all three of you here. I think Joseph's story speaks to us all because, regardless of the differences in our journeys, everyone shares a universal desire to be embraced for who we are, whom God made us to be.

How sad that so many of us give up our dreams when others cast us aside. Knowing each of you as I do, I thank God you're pressing on, realizing God's purpose for your lives. All of you shine great lights of inspiration and encouragement for me, and all those you know. May God bless you richly for your tenacity and vision!

(And, JM, I bet I had the same coloring book as you!)

Peace and joy always,

Douglas said...

I came across your blog through the search term "Joseph's Coat." Here's something that may be of interest: my exhibition "Joseph's Coat," originally created for the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedal, now currently on view at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis through early January 2010.

Additional greetings from my home congregation Germantown Mennonite Church in Philadelphia. We're the oldest Mennonite congregation in North America (1683), and currently marginalized by the larger church for our welcoming position.