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Fourth Sunday after Trinity
“Substituting For God”
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
St. Luke 6.36-42; Genesis 50.19-21
05 July 2020
+ In the Name of Jesus +
After Joseph had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had gone up with him to bury his father. (Gen. 50.14)
Jacob the patriarch was dead and buried. Do you remember why Jacob and his family were in Egypt? When Joseph was just a young man, his father Jacob favored him, and Joseph himself was righteous, just, and acted according to God’s commands in all he did.
Joseph’s brothers caused their father much heartache. They had problems with adultery and murder. Jealous of Joseph being favored by Jacob, they scheme to kill the boy – only to change their minds, selling Joseph instead to Midianite traders, who then took and sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt. They cover up their treachery with their father by dipping Joseph’s multicolored coat into goat’s blood, telling their father the lie that Joseph was killed by a wild animal.
So many years later, there is a lot on the conscience of Jacob’s sons when they approach Joseph after the burial of their father. It may be that he will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.
Yes, it may be. We wonder what would be fair “come-uppance” for Joseph. He’s always been the better man. With our sinful eye and heart, we would think it would only be fair for Joseph to demand retribution, reparation even, for all those years he spent in slavery in Egypt, then in prison biding his time – only for the Pharoah to have Joseph interpret his troubling dreams because a former fellow prisoner finally remembered him. Retaliation for all those years he was forced away from his family and his beloved father. At the very least, Joseph should get in a zinger of a line that profoundly sends his brothers home with tail between their legs – in other words, getting in that precious “last word.” That’s only fair, right?
In today’s Gospel, Luke chapter 6, our Lord Jesus says that we are not to judge and condemn our neighbors as if in God’s place. Joseph was surely tempted to get his fair revenge, right, and right the wrongs against him! This is the problem today with what the current “cancel culture” seeks to do by reordering society in a new image, doing away with our nation’s history, tradition, and even its lawful governance, in the name of their own politically motivated notions of “fairness” for inequities in our nation.
Instead, Jesus calls us to be merciful, even as our Heavenly Father is merciful. Do not judge. Do not condemn the neighbor. Instead, give to them in a good measure God’s good things. Give to their needs. Give and give some more. And give that which is most needed: forgiveness. The measure you use, Jesus reminds us, is the one you’ll be measured with. God gives to you and forgives you abundantly. Love your neighbor in this way. Judgment and condemnation of sin belongs to God’s realm and those on earth whom God calls to do so on His behalf: parents, other authorities including ministers of government lawfully placed in office, police, and others; this includes pastors who must rightly distinguish Law and Gospel, who are called to exercise the keys, and uphold right doctrine from the Scriptures.
Joseph, even though second in command over all Egypt, powerful enough to hold his brother’s fate in his hands – does not seek revenge. He does not seek to rewrite his family tree for himself. And to their credit, Joseph’s brothers do not come at Joseph with “Judge not lest ye be judged” – you’re not perfect either, Joseph, people would say today, so let us be on our way! Only God can judge! And there was no digging dirt on Joseph, no blaming Joseph, no trying to cancel Joseph out for being just as much or even more of a sinner as they. It’s refreshing, really, to see a story of people simply owning up to what they’ve done:
Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you… please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father. And exactly as God had shown Joseph in his dreams as a boy, the brothers bow down to Joseph and say, Behold, we are your slaves.
And we’d all say if the story ended that way: yes! That’s fair! Let them be slaves to Joseph. Eye for an eye, after all.
Not so fast. Joseph is the blessed saint who believes in the Christ to come and acts accordingly. All his actions in Genesis are shadows and images of the Christ to come. Time and again, Joseph suffered injustice while innocent, and without complaint. Now, Joseph follows the words of our Lord – he forgives, in good measure, and heaps goodness and love upon his brothers:
Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones. Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
Man makes a poor substitute for God as judge. But whenever possible, man should dole out the forgiveness and mercy God has first measured to him. Joseph exemplifies this. Jesus tells us this. Ascending to be a judge when not called, is to become hypocrites who can’t see the log of sin in our own eye. We sinners so easily self-justify ourselves over and against our neighbor. We cancel the neighbor in our heart and mind, and learn to hate the neighbor for what we perceive to be wrong with them. We then do not pray for them.
We will then be the blind being led by the blind devil into the pit of sorrow, misery, depression, anger, hatred, bitterness, into the pit that has led to man’s inhumanity against man – from Stalin’s purges and Hitler’s holocaust to enslaving Africans early in this country’s history, to Islamic terrorism to today’s cancel culture picking off all perceived enemies who do not favor what the politically correct mob favors or desires.
No, if you want to substitute for God, do not do so by exercising vengeance or judgment upon those around you. Stand by faith in the body of Christ, united with and following behind the One who became our merciful substitute, our great Joseph who endured the punishment and cancelling out we deserved for our transgressions and sin. Learn from Him to endure all things patiently and without complaint, knowing that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. You have been adopted as God’s sons, your soul and body redeemed in the water of Holy Baptism. In Christ, you will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
Thus, our Lord, having secured all things for us by His grace and mercy, calls us to win each day we are blessed with on this earth, even as it groans along in futility and sin. Win each day, that is, stand as Christ’s man or woman on the spot you are called, and win the place where you are at on the battlefield, not with vengeance, condemnation, retribution – but with the things of Christ: His love, His self-giving nature, His forgiveness.
Did Joseph stand in the place of God? When he forgave his brothers, yes, he most certainly did! God grant us the power to do the same where we are each day.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +