Hebrews 13:1-3; Genesis 44-45
It might surprise you that there are still a few political parties in Europe that have an anti-Semitic political platform, like the Jobbik Party which exists in Hungary.
Csanad Szegedi was one of its leaders until 2010 when a prisoner presented him with evidence that he was Jewish. Szegidi tried to squash the evidence but in the end it was undeniable. Not only was his mother Jewish, but his grandmother survived Auschwitz and his grandfather survived labor camps.
Szegedi, who had been one of the party’s most vocal and visible members, met with Shlomo Koves, a rabbi, who told him that following the Holocaust his grandparents had an Orthodox Jewish wedding, but they decided to keep their religion a secret from their children and grandchildren.
Szegedi then made trips to Auschwitz to “pay his respects to the Holocaust martyrs.” http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2012/08/14/158773637/leader-of-anti-semitic-party-in-hungary-discovers-hes-jewish
Today, Szegedi is an orthodox Jew and an anti-racist speaker. http://metro.co.uk/2015/05/04/hungarian-neo-nazi-politician-discovers-he-is-actually-jewish-5180536/
There is a line in the Hebrew oral tradition called the Mishnah that says, “Do not judge your fellow until you have been in his place.” (“Not in God’s Name,” Rabbi Jonathan Rabbi Sacks, Schocken: New York, p. 144).
When Szegedi discovered he had Jewish blood in his veins, it suddenly became easier to put himself in the place of the Jews.
In the Bible, Joseph had eleven brothers and one sister. His mother died giving birth to the last of Jacob’s children, her second born, which was Benjamin. Joseph was her first born.
All the other children were born to Rachel’s maidservant, Bilhah, to her sister Leah, and to Leah’s maidservant, Zilpah. If that’s confusing to you, it was rather confusing to them, too. It was one really big, jumbled up, blended family that never did blend.
Genesis teaches us an important lesson about family relationships. This might surprise you. Love is not enough if you treat love mostly as a feeling. We want to feel love, but love is a verb and it is possible to show love even when we are not feeling it.
In marriage people often believe that they first have to feel love to show it, when actually if they show love consistently, they will begin to feel it.
There has to be a sense of fairness and equity with the love we express to our children. Without this, there will be jealousy, anger, resentment, competition for attention, misunderstanding, and sibling rivalry, because someone in the family will actually feel unloved.
If there is any distance, any pain, any unhealthy emotions taking place in your family system, the key has already been shared from the Mishnah. “Do not judge another until you have been in his place.”
The difficulty with this is that most of us cannot see beyond our own selfishness. Most of us cannot see in ourselves what others can see. We don’t always have the emotional intelligence or the distance to back away and fairly judge what we are doing or saying that is complicating a relationship. Joseph lacked this ability.
Joseph did three things that really brought out the anger in his brothers.
1) He undermined their credibility.
Verse 37:2 says that he brought a bad report back to his father about how his brothers were talking care of the flocks, specifically his brothers born to Bilhah and Zilpah. Notice he left out Leah’s sons and Benjamin. He was especially biased against those born to the maidservants.
2) He bragged about his chosen status. He model an ornamented coat his father made for him. Now it’s hard to blame Joseph for wearing it, but once he saw it angered his brothers, perhaps he should have put it away. His bragging about being the favorite was causing his brothers to hate him.
If he had put himself in their place he would have understood their anger.
Every family has issues. The question is whether we are going to try to resolve them in healthy ways or if our choices will lead to making the situation worse.
Look at Genesis 37:18: “But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.”
When Csanad Szegedi was the leader of the Jobbik Party, spouting out anti-Semitic words about the Jews, he only saw the Jews in the distance. It was only when he saw Jewishness in his own face and then we saw them Jews up close that things changed.
As long as their brother was in the distance, Joseph’s brothers could plot to kill him. As long as he was at the bottom of a cistern and they could not see his face, they could plot to kill him. It’s much easier to talk about people and do them harm when we are not looking at them in the face.
As long as we can keep people that we are prejudiced against from coming close to us, we can hold on to our prejudices. As long as we don’t know people who are different from us, then we can treat them in ways God is not pleased with and we remain unchanged in our bigotry.
Joseph’s brothers, convinced they should not kill him, decided to sell him instead to a group headed to Egypt. They faked his death and lied to their father. In doing so, they actually set into motion a string of events that eventually helped Joseph’s dreams come true.
Joseph ended up a slave in Egypt, but eventually, through a series of events that God helped orchestrate, Joseph become the second most powerful man in Egypt and presided over the distribution of the grain during a seven-year famine. The famine led his brother to Egypt looking for grain and they ended up before Joseph seeking help.
All the brothers were present except Benjamin. He was now his father’s favorite son and so he stayed home with his father.
The brothers did not recognize Joseph. He really wanted to know what kind of people they had become. The only way he could know that was by seeing how they interacted with Benjamin, his only full brother, but he wasn’t there.
He wondered if his brothers had shifted their hatred from him to Benjamin.
So Joseph wanted his brothers to feel some of the things he felt and see how they responded.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says that there can be no more life-changing trial than to find yourself on the other side. (Ibid: 152)
That is the reason you cannot go through cancer and be the same person or feel the same way toward those who are diagnosed with cancer.
That is the reason you cannot lose your job and feel the same way about people in the unemployment line.
That is the reason you cannot be the victim of abuse and feel the same way toward those who have been abused physically or emotionally.
That is the reason you cannot go through an addiction problem, have a divorce, or lose a loved one to death, and not understand the nature of the struggles and loss that others are experiencing. Some people choose to be bitter. Other choose to be better or at least learn something and learn to be more sensitive to the needs of others.
Joseph had gone through being a slave, being in prison, being betrayed, and now he was second in command of all of Egypt. Did these experiences make him bitter or make him better?
The first thing Joseph did was accuse his brothers of being spies. He placed them in custody for three days. He wanted them to feel what it was like to be in the pit and wonder what was going to happen to them.
Next, Joseph’s plan was to get Benjamin back to Egypt so he sent them all home with the promise to bring back the youngest brother. However, he held Simeon as a hostage to ensure they would return. As they headed home, they discovered their silver had been returned inside their grain sacks, which caused them to be afraid.
Joseph wanted them to feel the emotions of fear and uncertainty.
When Benjamin came back with the brothers, Simeon was released from prison. Instead of something foreboding happening, they were treated with lavish hospitality.
Benjamin was given five times more food than the others because Joseph wanted to observe how this affected the others. Would this make them jealous?
Then they were given more grain and were sent on their way back home. Joseph instructed his steward to hide Joseph’s silver cup in Benjamin’s sack.
After they were on the road, Joseph sent his steward to overtake them and search for the missing silver cup.
So confident were the brothers that they didn’t have it they said, “If any of your servants is found to have it, he will die; and the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves.” (Gen 44:9)
The steward said, “Very well, then, let it be as you say. Whoever is found to have it will become my slave; the rest of you will be free from blame.” (44:10)
So they all lowered their sacks. They started with the oldest and went to the youngest. Benjamin’s was the last sack to be searched. When the silver cup came out of his sack, all the brothers tore their clothes as a sign of grief.
When they returned and were brought before Joseph, this is something Joseph would have noticed. Had they not cared about Benjamin, they would not have done this.
When they saw Joseph, he reiterated his steward’s message that everyone could return home except Benjamin, who will have to stay and become his slave.
What is Joseph doing?
This was the perfect test. They had an opportunity to get rid of Benjamin, the new favorite son, just like they got rid of Joseph so many years before. They had a chance to walk from him and leave him behind. Joseph knew if they made this choice they were the same men that sold him into slavery.
But Reuben. the oldest, stepped forward. Reuben had promised his father that Benjamin would be safely returned and he said to Joseph: “Pardon your servant, my lord, let me speak a word to my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, though you are equal to Pharaoh himself. 19 My lord asked his servants, ‘Do you have a father or a brother?’ 20 And we answered, ‘We have an aged father, and there is a young son born to him in his old age. His brother is dead, and he is the only one of his mother’s sons left, and his father loves him.’
“So now, if the boy is not with us when I go back to your servant my father, and if my father, whose life is closely bound up with the boy’s life, 31 sees that the boy isn’t there, he will die.
“Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. 34 How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.” (Gen. 44)
Joseph knew these were not the same brothers that sold him into slavery. He knew they felt guilty for what they did to him because they had said earlier that they deserved to be punished because of what they had done to their brother, and they surmised this was the reason these bad things were happening to them.
This statement brought Joseph to tears. His brothers didn’t know he could understand their language and Joseph had to get up and leave the room.
Now he knew this was more than just guilt. There was real repentance.
Repentance comes easier when we place ourselves in the place of another, especially when we realize that Jesus placed himself in our place when he took his sins upon himself on Calvary.
When we walk in the shoes of another:
1) We realize we all have the potential to change. Our past does not have to determine our future. When Jesus walked in our shoes, he wanted us to understand that we all have the potential to change.
2) Unless we listen to others and try to understand life from their perspective, we are not likely to develop a relationship with them. The reason Jesus came to us in the flesh was to develop a relationship with us. He wants us to try and understand others by listening to them. Whether this is with your spouse, your child, a teenager, or a stranger, unless you listen, unless you try to understand life from his or her perspective, the relationship will not deepen or happen at all.
Unless we close the gap by trying to know those of another religion, nationality, race, economic bracket, political persuasion, sexual orientation, and try to understand their lives and or walk in their shoes, we are not likely to have any kind of relationship with them, or have any influence on them, or learn anything from them.
3) Without a relationship, how can we share the love of God with them? How can we share the forgiveness that is available to them through Jesus, and the plan of salvation he has for our lives? People don’t care who you know until they know that you care.
This story teaches us that our own brothers can become strangers if we keep them at a distance, but complete strangers can turn out to be our brothers if we close the distance and reveal who we are to one another. (Ibid: 159-160)
This will happen only if we make real efforts to move outside the walls of the church and live out the Great Commission as Jesus has commanded.
What effort will you make to walk to place yourself in the shoes of another?
The writer of Hebrews said we should remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:1-3)
As you meet people this week ask this question, “If that person were me, how would I want to be treated?” When you answer that question, you will be coming close to being Jesus to them.