Third Sunday in Lent Collect
WE beseech thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty
desires of thy humble servants, and stretch forth the
right hand of thy Majesty, to be our defence against all our
enemies; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
‘Preppers’ are people that we are often suspicious of because they seem to be always anticipating the worst. We like to be optimistic, so people that are stacking toilet paper and cases of canned vegetables in their basements are ‘weird’, perhaps even ‘off the grid’. But sometimes they’re right and things do go bad. This was certainly the case in Egypt during the 7 lean years foretold by Pharaoh’s dreams. The 7 fat years had brought in a bumper crop. The nations had come to Egypt with money and merchandise to trade for food to preserve their lives. Joseph’s family had been reunited as all 70 Hebrews had relocated to the land of Goshen. But now the money had run out and the famine was fully in control. The Egyptians themselves were in fear for their lives. They traded all their belongings, their money, livestock and lands, for food. Finally, they sold themselves to Joseph and to Pharaoh.
I imagine that more than any other people in history, American readers feel the most uncomfortable with this passage. Here we have an example of a ruler taking advantage of a natural disaster to expand his power over all his subjects. This makes us uneasy. I would include myself in that number! What can we make of this passage? First, order is always better than chaos. Life is always better than death. Peace is better than war. That the starving Egyptians knew this should be a lesson and an encouragement to us. Our principles of freedom and liberty are worthy, but useless, if we are dead. Likewise, consider how Joseph had become like a father to Pharaoh. Pharaoh blessed Jacob in the name of his god, Elohim, the true god. While we often assume that ancient Egyptians were pagan idolaters, and evidently they were in the next book, Exodus, we shouldn’t be too hasty here. Joseph told his brothers that what they had meant for evil, God had meant for good. Evidently, that related to reconciling his brothers who had committed such injustice against him. But in a larger sense, God had brought Joseph to Egypt to convert them, to advance the Kingdom of God, and through them, to save the whole world. Finally, consider how the arrangement that Joseph makes with the people of Egypt is hardly servile slavery. The Pharaoh will receive one fifth or 20%, while they would keep 80%. This is not unlike the so called ‘free’ society that we so loudly proclaim to be the model to our foreign competitors. Generous indeed.
The Reformation was in many ways a good and necessary event. To name one benefit, its emphasis on ‘the priesthood of all believers’ said that every profession and even each human act, was sacred to the Lord. This, of course, sought to demystify the Christian ministry on the one hand, and exalt the religious duty of the laity on the other. But perhaps one unfortunate effect of this rearrangement was to eliminate the concept of ‘priesthood’ from the minds of Christians altogether. But we should be clear that not only did God establish the priesthood in the Old Testament, but that Jesus was the perfect fulfillment of that duty in his earthly ministry.
A priest is a ‘go-between’. Humans know that God exists, but is completely different from us: more powerful, holy, just, worthy of praise. We, on the other hand, would like to offer that praise, and enjoy the benefits of being in communion with such a God, cannot come into the presence of that God because we are none of those things. So the job of a priest is to represent the people to God. This brings up the concept of ‘sympathy’ , literally to share the experience of someone else. That’s what a good priest does. See how Jesus is described in these verses: tempted like us, can sympathize with our sorrows, is gracious to our cries because he suffered and cried. Because he has shared in every moment of our humanity in his incarnation, he is able to represent us to the Father. He can speak our human language of pain, disappointment, and even dereliction. Jesus was tempted in every way, but didn’t sin. But we still struggle to think of Jesus learning through that suffering, or even ‘being made complete and perfect’. The writer isn’t saying that Jesus was somehow imperfect. He has already claimed that Jesus was without sin. The point is that the suffering servant has now become high priest and Messiah. The recovery of the world that the Father seeks will not come cheaply, but thru the Son entering into the suffering that the world itself is struggling under. It is thru his cries from the cross that he completes and perfects his mission – killing death and bringing life. This is difficult to understand (11).