Reflections for the Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost

Genesis 45:1–15

I wonder, what do you say to those who left you for dead?

Joseph faces a painfully particular choice: to tell them the truth of who he is and lord his powerful position over his impoverished brothers, to show them how they were wrong; or, to remain silent and allow the ruse to continue.

Joseph has no reason to believe anything about his brothers has changed. More than likely, they are every bit the jealous, fratricidal bumblers they were before.

So what do you say to those who left you for dead?

Indeed, Joseph speaks to his brothers as one who is dead, freed from any belonging, any resentment, any competitiveness or rivalry to be had with those who killed him. And therefore, Joseph can act out of a freedom that only comes from a kind of death, able now to act out of a generosity that can only come in being freed from resentment.

I wonder about our aspirations to be freed of resentment. We might aspire to be free of resentment, but the process of losing it is real and painful. It might look like losing your ground for belonging, being left for dead, forced into service to another, serving an undeserved jail sentence.

I wonder, in that place of freedom, if only then the true generosity of reconciliation might be possible for us all.

Romans 11:1–2a, 29–32

I wonder if we are experiencing an occasion for God to show a new, generous mercy.

If there is a reading of Romans once lost and experiencing renewed attention today, it is the reading that demands we remember: we are Gentiles.

Paul is not talking about the internal struggles of the individual Christian. He is working out the awe-inspiring reality that right in front of him are these Gentiles whom God has somehow brought into the family of God’s people.

And now, Paul works all the way through the logic of this: it was in Israel’s disobedience that a way was opened for Gentile inclusion. Maybe even now in the disobedience of Israel to who Jesus is, God’s mercy may be revealed in and through the Gentiles, that Israel might receive mercy.

I wonder how our preaching might be different if we evoked the humility Paul is calling both Israel and Gentiles to?

I wonder how the shape and content of our proclamation might be different if we remember that the unchallenged ground for Paul’s own wondering here is the unending, unyielding mercy of God?

Matthew 15:(10–20), 21–28

I wonder how faith is only possible through the possibility of offense.

What I mean is shaped by that peskiest of beatitudes: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”

Everything about this story is offensive: pious, righteous Jewish leaders lack faith; a total and repulsive outsider; Jesus’ response to this woman; the disciples’ response to Jesus.

Are we put into the possibility of offense, as followers of Christ? Do we know what offensiveness looks like, feels like, both in the receiving and in the act of being? And surely it must go beyond being a matter of public opinion, as if the worst a Christian can experience is a bit of public derision for some superstitious beliefs.

If our answer is in the negative, then perhaps we are not in the place to receive faith, at least as far as this Pharisee and Canaanite woman are concerned.

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