Monday, February 11, 2013

Genesis 37 and The Letters of Ignatius [Ephesians 4-6]

Genesis 37 - The story of Joseph opens when Joseph is 17.  If Jacob spent 20 years in Haran and married Leah and Rachel after 7 years there, then Reuben must have been 13 or 14 when they returned to Canaan.  We see here that Joseph’s poor relations with his brothers derives not solely from his dreams, but from other things as well. 

Joseph “reported to his father some of the bad things his brothers were doing” (37:2) and his father favors him because he was born to Jacob late in his life and because Joseph’s mother, Rachel, was most dear to him. He had a special present made for him – “a beautiful robe” (37:3). His brothers hate him.

Then he starts to have dreams that make them “hate him more than ever” (37:5). He tells the dreams to them all: “’We were out in the field, tying up bundles of grain. Suddenly my bundle stood up, and your bundles all gathered around and bowed low before mine!’” (37:7). The second dream is similar, but this time it is the sun, the moon and eleven starts that “’bowed low before me’” (37:9). These dreams not only seem to put his brothers down, but also his father and mother (deceased).

Joseph is sent north to find his brothers who are shepherding in the region of Shechem and Dothan (way north of Hebron). Jacob would like some report as to how they are doing.

The plot hatched against him is not attributed to any one of the brothers but a few of their particular responses to it are noted.  Reuben objects to killing him outright (37:21); he suggests that they just leave him in a pit to die.  “Reuben was secretly planning to rescue Joseph and return him to his father” (37:22).

It is in the Elohist source that Reuben is presented as the one who tries to save Joseph.  In the Yahwist source, the good guy is Judah. It is Judah’s plan to sell him rather than leaving him to die.  It is pretty clear that they do not tell Reuben that they are going to do this, because Reuben discovers that Joseph is not in the well and is surprised. They try to make Jacob think he has been killed though. They kill a goat and dip Joseph’s robe in the blood. Jacob is devastated and cannot be comforted (37:35).

Joseph is finally sold for “twenty pieces of silver” to the Ishmaelites, and they sell him to Potiphar, chief steward of the Egyptian Pharaoh.

The Epistles of Ignatius
4 – This is the reason it is important “for your conduct and your practice to correspond closely with the mind of the bishop” (62). And the “clergy . . .  are attuned to their bishop like the strings of a harp, and the result is a hymn of praise to Jesus Christ from minds that are in unison, and affections that are in harmony. Pray, then, come and join this choir, every one of you; let there be a whole symphony of minds in concert; take the tone all together from God, and sing aloud to the Father with one voice through Jesus Christ, so that He may hear you and know by your good works that you are indeed members of His Son’s Body. A completely united front will help to keep you in constant communion with God” (62). I hope these words, written less than 100 years after the death of Jesus on the cross, resonate in some way with those who seek to find what “primitive Christianity” was like.

5 – Ignatius says that if he can feel such union with Onesimus after seeing him for such a short time, surely they should be “inseparably one with him as the Church is with Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ [is] with the Father” (62).

Those who exclude themselves from the “sanctuary” [the center and focal point of the religious community?] “convict [themselves] at once of arrogance and become self-excommunicate” (62).

It is obvious that the problem Ignatius is hoping to deal with involves a disagreement in the church at Ephesus that has resulted in a challenge to Onesimus’ authority. What was this disagreement? It might have been over continuing controversy over whether or not believers should continue to observe Jewish rites and laws. There will be disagreements over MANY THINGS as Christians move forward through history. Clearly what Ignatius is concerned about is that there be some ORDER in place to maintain unity while we await the guidance of Christ’s Spirit.

6 – Those bishops who are “reserved” in their manner should be respected even more than those who seek the limelight. Of the church at Ephesus, Onesimus has spoken “in the highest terms of your own correct and godly attitude in this respect; he told me that truth is the guiding principle of your lives, and heresy is so far from gaining a foothold among you that any speaker who goes beyond the simple truth about Jesus Christ is refused a hearing” (63).

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