10th Sunday after Pentecost
‘Delivery from Slavery’
Genesis 37:1-4; 12-28
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 US with a promise that she would be educated in American schoolings in exchange of her helping them with their ‘light’ household chores. The reality could not be more different. Instead of going to school and getting better education, Rose was locked in the couple’s house in US. She was not allowed to make any phone-call or to write any letter to anyone. She was required to work 18 hours a day, with no payment, and would get beaten whenever she questioned about her situation or made any mistake.
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 not enough lighting. He 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, he 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. In those times, it was considered normal to sell and buy humans as properties. Slavery was indeed part and parcel of the economic system in ancient time.
Joseph was only one victim of slavery in the history of humankind, even though selling one’s own relative as slave was not considered normal even in those times.
But Joseph’s story is not an independent story. It is part of a larger story, namely the story about God’s promise to give the descendants of Abraham a land where they would settle and grow into a strong nation. Different characters appeared along the way: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and, now, Joseph. Each one of them had to face his own particular problem. Yet, they were all parts of the grand-story of a people, chosen by God, who journeyed to the land that God had promised to give to them.
Today’s story about Joseph was a part of this story. It 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 put out his hand to rescue Peter from drowning, Joseph’s brothers put 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 what happened 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 plot to save Joseph from the evil plan of his brothers. Despite all the obstacles, God kept God’s promise to Abraham.
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 said to them, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people....” (Genesis 50:20)
Friends, God’s will is to free all beings in the world from all kinds of slaveries. That is the ‘grand-design’ that God has for God’s world. This is why we are to keep our eyes on the ‘big-picture’ as we deal with our own particular situation so that we have the strength to deal with the challenges.
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 was the source of all-evil (and they called lake Galilee as sea Galilee because of its size).
We are told that their 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 force that was ‘tormenting’ the boat and its passengers. It was not a surprise that, in the midst of such terror, they mistook Jesus himself for a demon, an evil being who came to torment them even more. Indeed, in a situation of chaos and confusion, goodness is easily misperceived as evil.
But 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 to God’ words when God said 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.
Indeed, this great “I Am” asked His disciples to focus not on the wild storm, but on him. Indeed, this great “I Am” was the Creator of the universe thus he had the power to control it. Indeed, this great “I Am” wanted to rescue the disciples from the hands of the power of chaos and not to bring them to destruction.
While the storm was still raging, Jesus invited Peter to come to him and not be afraid because he was with him. Jesus invited Peter, and the other disciples, to witness that the storm did not have any power whatsoever in his presence.
In the midst our own storm in 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. Friends, we are all bound in slavery in different ways. But 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 others and ourselves. We are to proclaim that the power of evil that often holds our life and others' ransom is rendered powerless in the holy presence of Christ.
Today, as we welcome new members into our community of faith, let us remind ourselves to become the presence of Christ to one another. Let us help one another to break the shackles of illness, isolation, poverty, abuse, worthlessness, depression, and greed that had affected people in this community. And let us join hands with one another to break the shackles of evil that have affected the people in the wider community in the name of Christ, our lord and saviour. Amen.
Rev. Toby Keva