Ash Wednesday – Genesis 37:1-36
A number of years ago, when I was in junior high, the pastor did a series of sermons in weekly chapel on Joseph. And he started with this very text from Genesis 37, and he told us that Joseph was really a spoiled little brat.
I kid you not, I almost fell over upon hearing that.
How could you say such a thing about poor little Joseph? He was picked on by his brothers to no end; he was sold into slavery; he had a hard life in Egypt, where his loyalty to Potiphar is repaid by being thrown into prison based on one false accusation. He then helps out two fellow prisoners, only to be completely forgotten when what he predicts comes true.
How can Joseph possibly be a spoiled, little brat, when he is the VICTIM for about 25 years from Genesis 37-40, and then is the hero from there on out?
I was so distraught by this, I asked the religion teacher about it later that day, and he was equally surprised by what he heard; so I asked the pastor about it on Sunday morning.
Perhaps you also find yourself in the same position I did. The Joseph we know is a Joseph who was sold into slavery; who lived a hard life; who by the grace of God was elevated into a position of power and prestige in all Egypt, who was able to save not just his family, but an entire nation from certain starvation.
How could this Joseph that we know and love, how could this Joseph whose story we fondly recall, how could this Joseph, be a spoiled little brat?
But of course, the same could be said about you, could it not?
If we were to examine your life, what would we find?
Oh, we would find what you want us to find. We would find the hardships that you faced; we would find the heartaches you endured; we would find the trials and tribulations that you had to overcome. And I would imagine, in the story of your life you would paint yourself as the hero who saves the day, who everyone looks up to, who stands at the pinnacle on the last day, and mercifully forgives those who did you wrong; how thoughtful of you indeed.
Because that is the story you want others to hear; that is the story you want others to tell about you; and dare I even say it, that is the story you want to believe. The story where you, like Joseph, are the victim, who ends up being the hero. The story where God is on your side. The story where in the end, we forget about all the other details, and only focus on the ones that you want us to remember.
I can assure you that I recovered from this traumatic experience in junior high, and it did not take years of therapy or a safe place to do so. Instead, when I confronted the pastor on his seemingly baseless accusations about good ol’ Joseph, he merely pointed out what the text says.
Now granted the text does not call Joseph a spoiled little brat, at least not in so many words. But look at what it does say.
Joseph is the favored child of Jacob by virtue of him being the first born of the favored wife, who later died in childbirth with Benjamin. You don’t have to be a family therapist to say that the first born of the favored wife is going to get a big head about himself when he soon discovers that his presents are a whole lot nicer than those of everyone else, and that no matter what, he can do no wrong.
And what is the nicest present of all? A coat of many colors. Could there be anything more gaudy, more flashy, more in your face for all to see, than a coat of many colors in a world where everyone else is living in black and white? A coat that you can’t just hide in your pocket, or keep to yourself, but a coat that demands to be worn and seen and shown off every chance you get.
And what could cement your status as favorite child, than by ratting out your older brothers? Look at me in my fine coat, being the good child, while these 11 others are off being naughty. Oh, and don’t forget those dreams, where everyone bows down and worships him. I’m sure the brothers enjoyed hearing about that.
Is Jacob to blame? Absolutely; he is a horrible parent; and there is no doubt about it, his failed parenting style has created this monster child in Joseph, and the deep seated animosity in the brothers. But that does not give anyone, especially Joseph a permission slip to do whatever he wants; Joseph is accountable for his own sins, and by golly, does he have a lot to account for.
Because Joseph is nothing more than a spoiled little brat, and he deserves to be thrown into that pit, and while selling him into slavery may seem a little overboard, don’t think for a minute that you would not be tempted to do the same with some of your neighbors or relatives, or whoever else is the spoiled little brat in your life, should the opportunity ever arise.
Do you see what happened? When you read the text, when you examine the full life of Joseph, you soon discover that Joseph is not so innocent anymore; Joseph is a sinner; Joseph is worthy to some degree of what he has got coming to him, and I don’t mean being appointed second in command of all Egypt. Joseph deserves the pit, and he may even deserve to be sold off.
Now look at your own life; not the part you want others to see, the clean shaven, polished surface, smooth edges, no problems here image, but the underbelly of yourself; the part of you that is drenched in the blood of your enemies, who you have verbally and physically beaten down. How much better are you than the Joseph of Genesis 37? That Joseph is a pain, and you know it. What of you?
Tonight, marked upon your forehead is your answer. Perfect angels don’t get ashes, but spoiled little brats do. That is where you find yourself: with Joseph, in the pit, covered in dust and ashes. You are chief of sinners; from depths of woe you cry out in agony; because the image you portray to others is nothing but smoke and mirrors, the truth is that you are sentenced to death.
But God never forgot Joseph; and God never forgets you. For Christ Jesus has come into the world to bare the sins of all people, even spoiled little brats like you, and terrible parents and teachers and pastors and leaders like Jacob who created the situation that yields spoiled little brats.
Even those who we only remember as being wonderful human beings, need Jesus. Pastors need Jesus; elders need Jesus; teachers need Jesus; parents need Jesus; babies need Jesus; even Joseph needed Jesus; even you need Jesus. Tonight, with ashen foreheads, we remind ourselves of this truth once more. You need Jesus, because you are a spoiled little brat, and spoiled little brats need Jesus, and they, and you, get Jesus, the one who has come to redeem you from your sins.