Summary: There is pain in family relationships. Jacob’s emptiness created Benjamin, the zero. Judah repeats parental manipulation. But Joseph shows that God’s grace can turn family pain into accomplishment.
The emotional scene we are about to confront comes out of a long history of deals and double deals. When this man stands before his brothers and weeps, his tears flow out of a whole reservoir of pent-up feelings. When this man, this strong, savvy, sophisticated official, cries out in a pain so intense that everybody in the king’s household hears it, you know that his pain is welling up from someplace very deep indeed.
I think most of us will agree that the deepest pain we feel comes out of our family relationships. What parents and children, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives do to one another -- that kind of pain far exceeds anything else. You may be insulted by your friends, you may be scorned by your neighbors, you may be criticized by your boss. All of that hurts. But nothing hurts quite like the things family members do to one another. Nothing brings up tears and feelings more powerfully than the things family members say to one another. The deepest pain we feel comes out of our family relationships.
And yet -- and yet -- I want you to know this morning that there can be healing for that pain. There can be redemption within the family. And our God, our gracious, caring God, can take even the mistakes and the pain, all the insults and the hurt and the just plain garbage, that we put into family life, and out of that our God can bring forth something beautiful.
There is good news today, even for families gone wrong. There is good news for families who hurt.
Picture three brothers and their father. One of these brothers, Benjamin, is very young. He is still very much under the watchful eye of his father, Jacob. Benjamin is the youngest, actually not of three brothers, but of twelve, but in today’s drama, only three figure in. Benjamin, this baby of the family, has been accused of theft. It’s not true, but he stands accused anyway, and seems unable to defend himself. Benjamin is a silent young man. He seems like some sort of victim, sort of pawn in a family chess game.
The second brother you should picture standing before you is Judah. Judah is the very oldest of the sons of Jacob, and, like number one sons everywhere, gets caught sometimes in between the expectations of his father and. the manipulations of his brothers and sisters. Some while back, before the scene we are going to see today, Judah and his brothers did something very damaging. Judah and his brothers, fed up with their father’s playing favorites, and sick of the superior airs they sensed in another brother, Joseph, sold Joseph down the road, got rid of him. Actually, they had wanted to kill Joseph. But Judah, caught between the expectations of his father and the manipulations of most of his brothers, thought up the idea of selling Joseph. He thought that a little pain now was better than a whole lot of pain anytime; but Judah didn’t see that sometimes when you create a little pain now you are setting yourself up for even greater pain down the trail. That’s Judah, the oldest of the sons of father Jacob.
And then I want you to picture Joseph. Joseph had been Jacob’s favorite, yes. Joseph had undoubtedly flaunted his privileged position, yes, of course. But Joseph had been packed up and sent off to Egypt. Joseph had suffered homelessness and abandonment. Joseph had been in prison; but now Joseph had become somebody. Joseph had succeeded in rising to the chief place in the kingdom; he had proved his abilities many times over, and in a time of crisis Egypt’s Pharaoh had trusted Joseph. Joseph was at the pinnacle of success. But today, picture it, Joseph weeps. Today, Joseph finds pain down in the bottom of his heart, and he weeps.
You already know how the brothers, all but Benjamin who stay at home with his father … how the brothers had come to Egypt looking for food to buy. You’ll remember that they did not recognize their brother Joseph after all these years. And you’ll recall that Joseph had decided to play a power game with them. He had insisted that the young Benjamin be brought to Egypt before he would trade for food. Then you will recall as well that after Benjamin comes, Joseph’s next move is to plant a valuable gold cup in Benjamin’s baggage, so that he can accuse the young man of theft. And so, as today’s scene opens, Joseph the bureaucrat, Joseph the hidden brother, is demanding that Benjamin pay for his supposed crime. He demands that Benjamin stay behind in Egypt as a slave.
Judah, that oldest brother, speaks and rehearses the whole story, telling the officer why that would not be possible: