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February 18, 2001
By Tony Grant
I invite you to turn in your Bibles to the book of Genesis chapter 45 and follow along as I read verses 3-11. "Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches." (RV2:29).
3 And Joseph said unto his brethren, I am Joseph; doth my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence.
4 And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt.
5 Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.
6 For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest.
7 And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
8 So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.
9 Haste ye, and go up to my father, and say unto him, Thus saith thy son Joseph, God hath made me lord of all Egypt: come down unto me, tarry not:
10 And thou shalt dwell in the land of Goshen, and thou shalt be near unto me, thou, and thy children, and thy children's children, and thy flocks, and thy herds, and all that thou hast:
11 And there will I nourish thee; for yet there are five years of famine; lest thou, and thy household, and all that thou hast, come to poverty.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
I sometimes hear people say, "We need to have family values like they had in the Bible" When someone says that, I have a little imp in me that would like to reply, "Yeah, like Joseph and his family." Josephs family was what psychologists call "dysfunctional." They did not have any family values. If we would bring this family into the present, they would wind up on Jenny Jones or Montel, and the topic of the show would be: "Siblings who sold their brother into slavery." Picture the sons of Jacob on stage, a line-up of coarse and questionable characters who openly admit to selling their teenage brother Joseph down the river. No doubt they would bluster about why they did it:
"Dad loved him best."
"He had the fancy robe, and wouldn't get his hands dirty."
"The kid drove me crazy with his dreams"
"Thought he was the king of us!"
And then they'd explain just how they pulled it off:
"We thought about killing him."
"Wanted to throw dream-boy into a pit."
"Say that the wild animals ate him."
"But Reuben said no - said we shouldn't kill him."
"So we stripped him and we sold him."
"Yeah - sold him to some Ishmaelites."
"Got 20 pieces of silver for him."
Finally, Jenny would bring out the surprise guest: Their long-lost brother Joseph, who ended up as chief minister in Egypt. "I am your brother," he'd reveal. "And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life" (Genesis 45:5). Joseph would promise to feed the brothers in their time of famine, and all would be amazed at his generosity.
But what about the scars? There would have to be scars. All those years of hatred and jealousy, abuse and violence--there would HAVE to be scars.
Liana Gedz knows all about scars. She went into the hospital for the birth of a child which was delivered C-section. Later, she noticed that the physician who had performed the surgery had carved his initials - "AZ" - into her belly. Did you see that in the paper? That was bizarre, Jerry Springer stuff. How do you get rid of a scar like that? The answer for Liana was a tummy tuck which would hide even the C-section scar. Both the AZ and the C-scar disappeared with one additional surgical procedure, while the surgeon was hauled into court and thrown into the slammer.
Unfortunately, there are times when a scar cannot be hidden with a tummy tuck. If a large area of skin has been lost, as with burn victims, a surgeon will have to remove the entire scar and shift a piece of healthy skin, complete with fat, blood vessels and muscles, to the injured site.
Even better, scientists have come up with recipes for advanced bandages that jump-start the repair of injured skin, but then break down--leaving behind only healed tissue. These bandages are called "biodegradable scaffolds." Biodegradable scaffolds improve the odds of scarless healing. Biodegradable scaffolds are bandages made of synthetic polymers, crab shells, pig intestines and foreskins from circumcised newborns. Other treatments include silicone gel sheets, mineral oils and steroid creams, as well as a surgical sanding technique known as dermabrasion.
But injuries are everywhere, and not every scar can be treated. Some five million wounds will occur this year in the United States alone. This does not count the wounds that are psychological, emotional and spiritual, wounds that ache and fester for so many years after an injury.
Think of the deep and numerous scars in the life of Joseph and his brothers. The constant taunting when he was a child. The plot to murder him. The heartless sale into slavery.
How do you heal these wounds? A tummy tuck is not going to do it. When it comes to psychological wounds, there is no scarless healing.
The opening verses of Genesis chapter 45 form the climax of the story of Joseph. Joseph's revelation of himself to his brothers concludes a tale of folly, favoritism, jealousy, deceit, cowardice, malevolence and injustice.
What unfolds in the episode that is today's lesson is the spiritual truth of divine providence. The point is hammered home that neither external circumstances nor twisted human wills can finally thwart the purposes of a loving God who acts in human history.
Let us briefly sketch what happened. A severe famine gripped the world of the eastern Mediterranean, including Egypt, where Joseph, a Hebrew sold by his brothers into slavery many years before, has risen to power by his ability to interpret Pharaoh's dreams of the approaching famine. Through wise counsel and administration, Joseph has both saved Egypt from starvation and made his adopted home the breadbasket for the known world. Among those coming from near and far to purchase Egyptian grain are Joseph's brothers, who do not recognize Egypt's chief administrator as the youthful shepherd sibling they had sold into slavery decades earlier in a fit of fratricidal jealousy. Through a series of tests, Joseph discovers that his brothers, once capable of murdering their own flesh and blood, have become men of honor and compassion. To these strangers, bewildered by events they neither control nor understand, Joseph reveals himself as kin.
When Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers in v. 3, they are stupified into silence this reminds us of Joseph's silence during his brothers' mistreatment of him years earlier. As Joseph had been silent when the brothers sold him into slavery, so the brothers are silent when confronted with Joseph the prime minister of Egypt.
Joseph's invitation to his brothers to "come closer to me" (v. 4) reflects the gathering together of a family that has been totally dysfunctional. Joseph explains why he can forgive his brothers in the next verse, saying, "for God sent me before you to preserve life." this observation showsus that Joseph possesses a spiritual talent that most people lackthe talent to perceive Gods action in his life. Most people believe in God in some fashion or another, but when they think of God acting, they think of something that happened long ago and far away. For joseph the action of God is as close as the beat of his own heart.
Joseph know that God was in all tht happened to hims and so we read in GN45:15 that Joseph "kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him." (NRSV). Joseph is reconciled to his brothers. But the scars that this family bear are not easily sanded away through dermabrasion. In fact, their story illustrates well the medical axiom "once scarred, always scarred." Ultimately, there is no scarless healing. But as one doctor observed, "You can't airbrush out a scar, but you can create great camouflage."
Joseph's scar will not go away, and he does not pretend it will. In v5, he points to his scar and reminds his brothers that they sold him into slavery. He makes no attempt to airbrush the fact that something terrible was done to him, but in spite of this history, Joseph is somehow able to heal and move toward reconciliation with his brothers.
How does he do it? How is he able to get beyond what happened and restore this fragmented family? Joseph understands that a spiritual scaffold has been erected by God. Joseph discovers that a divine scaffold has been built over his wound - a scaffold that will prove to be much more healing than any modern biodegradable scaffolds made of clam shells or pig intestines. Looking back over his life, he sees that God has managed in a truly mysterious way to bring good out of evil, using even the dastardly act of his jealous brothers to put him in an important position in the land of Egypt. "God sent me before you" Joseph explains, "to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors" (vv. 5, 7).
The spiritual scaffold does not remove the scar, but changes its appearance. You might say that it "camouflages" it, and makes it look like something else. What first looked like a cruel, heartless and hateful act on the part of Joseph's brothers now looks like a graceful, heartfelt and loving act on the part of a God who wanted Joseph to prosper and save his family from famine. God brings healing. "Even though you intended to do harm to me," Joseph tells his brothers, "God intended it for good" (Genesis 50:20).
The scar is still there. But now it looks beautiful, instead of ugly. God's spiritual scaffold has changed its appearance forever.
Does this mean that every tragedy we experience has a silver lining? That all evil is really good, and that all our suffering is somehow being orchestrated by God? Not at all. The world is full of senseless violence, horrifying hatred and a whole range of actions and attitudes that attempt to thwart the will of God. Just turn on daytime television if you want proof of that.
Evil exists, but the lesson of Joseph is that God orchestrates evil as well as good to bring about his purposes.
Let me put it this way. Suppose I ask you if you would like to have a snack, and I offer you a bottle of cooking oil (yuck!), then a raw egg (gross!), and finally some flour and baking soda (no way!). These things do not seem very good, and many things you face every day that do not seem very good, either. We have family problems, financial problems, sickness, trouble and turmoil.. Those are the "yucky" things of life. But God can combine those yucky things, evil deeds, bad scenes, in such a way that something good is created. Oil, eggs, flour and baking soda can be put together to create a delicious cake. That is the way God works. He can take something bad like Joseph's being sold into slavery, and turn it into something good like Joseph's being put into a position that gave him the power to save his family. So you might see your problems as the oil, eggs, flour and baking soda of life - materials that can be put together to make something completely different and good.
Keep the Scars
God is molding and pushing all the events in life, even the unpleasant events, toward a grand and glorious conclusion. Both the Old and the New Testaments teach us is that God has the power to transform human evil into divine good. Gid used the slavery of Joseph to save a family, and he transformed the death of Jesus into the salvation of the world. Ultimately, he will transform the world itself into a new heaven and a new earth.
But it is not done without scars, and as I said, there is no scarless healing. Joseph kept his scars. So did Jesus. Jesus kept those crucifixion scars for a reason.
Philip Yancey, [The Jesus I Never Knew (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995).] writes: "Presumably [Jesus] could have had any resurrected body he wanted, and yet he chose one identifiable mainly by scars that could be seen and touched. Why?
I believe the story of Easter would be incomplete without those scars on the hands, the feet, and the side of Jesus. When human beings fantasize, we dream of pearly straight teeth and wrinkle-free skin and sexy ideal shapes. We dream of an unnatural state: the perfect body. But for Jesus, being confined in a skeleton and human skin WAS the unnatural state. The scars are, to him, an emblem of life on our planet, a permanent reminder of those days of confinement and suffering.
I take hope in Jesus' scars. From the perspective of heaven, they represent the most horrible event that has ever happened in the history of the universe - the crucifixion - Easter turned into a memory. Because of Easter, I can hope that the tears we shed, the blows we receive, the emotional pain, the heartache over lost friends and loved ones, all these will become memories, like Jesus' scars. Scars never completely go away, but neither do they hurt any longer. We will have re-created bodies, a re-created heaven and earth. We will have a new start, an Easter start."
Jesus kept his crucifixion scars, and we keep our scars, but we should not let the scars disfigure our lives. Rather we should know that God can create a life in which our wound is transformed into something good, and we are propelled toward new and abundant life.
The question is: HOW? In his classic book The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen reflects on what it means to minister in a hurting and alienated society. He recommends prayer, not as a "decoration of life," but as the breath of human existence. A Christian community is a healing community, says Nouwen, not because wounds are cured and pains are alleviated, but because wounds and pains become openings or occasions for a new vision, a vision derived from prayer, real prayer.
Real prayer is more being than doing. It is not words but the beyond-words experience of coming into the presence of something much greater than oneself. It is an invitation to recognize holiness, and to utter simple words - "Holy, Holy, Holy" - in response. Prayer is a certain quality of attention that often comes upon a person when they are busy doing something else. For example, when someone, friend or foe, comes to mind, we should take it as a sign to pray for that person.. I know a pastor who use his daily jogging run in order to pray for all the members of his churches, lingering over each name. "Just saying the name can be a prayer," this pastor said, "because if I don't know what that person needs, I can be certain that God does."
Scars can also be Gods way of leading us to do his will. Take a look at your scars: physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual. How can they be openings or occasions for new visions? Joseph looked at the scar of his sale into slavery, and saw that God had a saving plan for his life. Perhaps some abuse you have suffered will enable you to serve people who have been abused; maybe some hurt you have endured will equip you to ease the pain of another; it could be that some loss you have experienced will put you in a powerful position to assist those who are grieving.
By prayerfully reflecting on human scars - instead of ignoring them or wishing them to disappear - we can discover new opportunities for Christian service. Like the plastic surgeon who volunteers his time to help battered women whose faces and bodies have been scarred by abuse. He works hard to restore each woman's beauty. Even if he falls short, he transforms the scar and renders some emotional healing. Not all scars can go away, but most can be transformed.
The greatest transformer of scars is, of course, the Divine Physician, Jesus the Christ. It is by his wounds that we are healed, and by his sacrificial death that we experience everlasting life. He does not remove our wounds, but builds a spiritual scaffold over them - one that shows us that healing is always a possibility, even when it comes in surprising ways.
Our scars need not be embarrassing. Jesus built a scaffold over our scars. That scaffold is called the cross. Amen.
Source: Martindale, Diane. "Scar no more." Scientific American, July 2000, 34-36.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified, 02/23/01