That’s the insight of the story of the wilderness sojourn: whenever the presence of God becomes doubtful, the people of God will place their trust in something else: a golden calf, the staff of Moses, or the voice of Aaron. Only in retrospect can they look back at the unlikely event of their survival and say, with blessed assurance, “Yes, God was with us in the journey out of slavery and into freedom.”
It’s complicated, but God gave us humans the capacity for complicated calculus, for nuance and discernment. Nuance loses its popularity in a time of high anxiety and reactivity, but faith calls us to rise above our brain stem and fire up our cerebral cortex. Jesus makes a distinction between bearing a grudge and requiring accountability. He makes a distinction between resentment and restitution.
I do know this from the teachings of Jesus. We will never change anyone’s mind through force, coercion, or violence. We will never change or influence a person or a community to which we are not connected. We can change the minds and hearts of those who sin against us, against God, against nature, only in the context of a relationship. It’s hard work. There are no short cuts. But that is our calling as the church, as disciples of Jesus Christ.
This story [Joseph], like the Gospel story of the Canaanite woman, does not follow the expected path. It proclaims God’s abundance where we human beings see scarcity. Joseph looks at the trembling men before him and still sees his brothers. He recalls the suffering they caused him and he sees God’s hand at work to bring about good.
When our dreams, like those of Jacob, lie shattered in pieces, this story reminds us that God’s dream never dies. Though the stage on which we live may look like anarchy to our eyes, the Director in the wings continues to send new actors onto the stage; continues to lead the action with a subtle hand, to edit our script toward the promised end of a new heaven and a new earth.
The promise of the Gospel is that when we let go of our own agenda, discern the direction of God’s mission in the world, and join with it, we do not carry any burden alone. It is not our yoke, but Christ’s, and we labor under a load that is borne by Him.
The distraction of our own day is this illusion that racial injustice, the dehumanizing of the “other,” and the imbalance of power is only a political problem. When we read Genesis, it becomes apparent very quickly that these are human problems; these are moral problems that have spilled out into economic and political systems constructed by sinful human beings.