9th Sunday after Pentecost (August 10 • 2014)
‘Delivery from Slavery’
Genesis 37:1-4; 12-28
Psalm 105:1-6; 16-22; 45b
Human trafficking is a serious problem that the world still has to deal with, even in this modern age. In his book, Ending Slavery, Kevin Bales tells a story of Rose who, at the age of 14, had to leave her family and home in Cameroon. A couple took her to the US with a promise that she would be educated in American schools in exchange for helping the couple with their ‘light’ household chores. The reality could not be more different. Instead of going to school, and getting a better education, Rose was locked in the couple’s house in the US. She was not allowed to make any phone-calls or to write letters to anyone. She was required to work 18 hours a day, with no payment, and would be beaten whenever she questioned the couple about her situation or whenever she made mistakes.
A similar situation happened to another child, Raj. At the age of 8, he was kidnapped from his home in India. He was taken to a place, hundreds of kilometres away from his village. There, he was forced to work all day, every day, with no payment. He worked in a shed where there was only dim lighting and received minimal food to survive and had to breathe wool dust because of the nature of his work. Five years later, when the authorities finally found him, Raj had become a confused, stunted, sick, and intellectually underdeveloped child.
Today, in the book of Genesis, we hear another story of human trafficking. Joseph’s story of being sold as a slave was, perhaps, one of the oldest stories of human trafficking. The difference between Joseph’s story and Rose’s or Raj’s stories is that, unlike today, slavery was part and parcel of the economic system in ancient times. It was considered as normal as the banking system of today. Humans, in those times, were bought and sold as properties. Even though selling a relative as a slave was not normal even in those times, Joseph was simply one victim, amongst many, of this cruel human institution that goes against God’s purpose for the world.
Joseph’s story, however, is not an independent story. It is part of a larger story, namely the story about the promise that God would give the descendants of Abraham a land where they would grow into a strong nation. Different characters appeared along the way: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and, now, Joseph. Each one of them had to face different obstacle. Yet, they were all part of the grand-story of the journey of a people, chosen by God, to settle in a land that God had promised them.
Today’s story about Joseph was a story about jealousy between siblings that resulted in Joseph being trafficked as a slave to Egypt. Unlike our reading in Matthew, where Jesus reached out his hand to rescue Peter from drowning, Joseph’s brothers reached out their hands to take him out of the pit not to rescue him, but to sell him as a slave. In a similar fashion to Rose, who was tricked by a couple promising a better future in US, Joseph was tricked by his own brothers and sold to Egypt.
Yet, even though our reading ends here, we know that the bigger story didn’t end here. We know that God was not absent. God was involved in the thick plot to save Joseph from the evil hands of his brothers. Through the voice of Ruben, God rescued Joseph from being killed. Even through Judah’s evil intention to earn profit by selling Joseph to the traders, God kept his promise to Abraham intact.
Later on, Joseph, the slave, would become an important and powerful figure in Egypt; second in status only to Pharaoh (Genesis 41:37-45). God turned Joseph’s curse into a blessing. Many years later, when Joseph was finally reconciled with his brothers, he would say to them, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good ... ” (Genesis 50:20).
Today, we need to see our own modern stories of slavery and human trafficking in a similar fashion. As bad as those stories are, it is not the end of the ‘bigger-story’. God’s desire for us is to free all from any kind of slavery. That is the ‘grand-plan’ that God has for us. We are to keep our eyes on God’s ‘big-picture’ as we deal with our own particular situation. We are to keep our eyes on God’s ‘big-picture’ so that we have the strength to deal with the challenges that each situation offers.
In our Gospel reading today, the disciples too were being shackled by their fear and doubt. For the Hebrews, water was the source of primal chaos in the universe. For them, the sea, and they called Lake Galilee the Sea of Galilee because of its size, was the source of all evil.
We are told that the boat was being battered by the storm. A more literal translation would say that the boat was being ‘tormented’ by the storm. The storm was seen here as an evil monstrous force, that was ‘tormenting’ the boat and its passengers. It was not a surprise, in the midst of such terror, that they mistook Jesus himself for a demon, an evil being who came to torment them even more. In any situations of chaos and confusion, goodness is easily misperceived as evil.
Jesus responded to the tormented disciples by saying, “It is I, do not be afraid. A more literal translation would say, “I am, do not be afraid.” Jewish people, like the disciples, would immediately relate Jesus' words with the words that God used when He introduced Himself to Moses, “I Am who I Am (Exodus 3:14).” By saying, “I Am,” Jesus declared that the fullness and presence of the Holy God of Israel was present in him.
This great “I Am” thus asked His disciples to focus on Him, and not on the wild storm. This great “I Am” was the Creator of the universe thus He had the power to control it. This great “I Am” wanted to rescue the disciples from the hands of evil power and not to bring them to destruction.
Jesus invited Peter to come to the storm with him, not away from the storm. Jesus had not calmed the storm when he invited Peter to join him. While the storm was still raging, he invited Peter to not be afraid because he was with him. Jesus invited Peter, and the other disciples, to witness that the storm did not hold any power whatsoever in the presence of Christ.
In the midst of the chaos that we too face in our life, we too are invited to fix our eyes not on the problems that we face, but on the great “I Am” who promises to be with us no matter what. We are all bound in slavery in different ways. We are all facing slavery in its different manifestations. Today, we are invited to look beyond our shackles to the grand-story that God is creating in the world.
God’s grand-design may be bent, but it cannot be broken. This is the good news that we need to tell to others and us. In the face of the power of evil that holds our life and others', this is the good news that we need to embody for us and for others.
Let us pray.
God of endings and new beginnings, we encounter you amidst a broken world. You invite us into these spaces of brokenness – into these cracks, through which the light shines. Thank you for the gift of your presence, even through the difficulty of the unknown and uncomfortable. Amen.
 Taken into Slavery, on Seasons Fusion for Congregational Life, Year A June 15-August 31 2014 - Pentecost 1, p. 125.
 Same as above (no. 1).
 Howard, Cameron, B. R., Commentary on Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28, on http://www.workingpreacher.org (August 10 2014).
 Works, Carla, Commentary on Matthew 14:22-33, on http://www.workingpreacher. org (August 10 2014).
 Same as above (no. 4).
 Same as above (no. 4).
 Seasons Fusion for Congregational Life, Year A June 15-August 31 2014 - Pentecost 1, p. 120.