Psalm 22:29–32; Genesis 41:17–57; Matthew 14:15–24

Originally posted 2/12/2016—revised and updated 2/12/2018

Psalm 22:29–32: This benedictory conclusion of this remarkable psalm picks up the theme of worship in the preceding verses, observing that whether or not the nations know him, God nevertheless rules over all civilization—something worth remembering as we read/watch the unrelenting turmoil in the world today:
For the Lord’s is the kingship—
and He rules over the nations.” (29)

Our poet even extends this worship to (what Paul calls) the principalities and powers of the underworld. This verse seems to be a puzzling exception to the general rule in the Psalms that the dead, being dead, cannot worship God. Yet, here is exactly that. The dead are also worshipers:
Yes, to Him will bow down
all the netherworld’s sleepers.
Before him will kneel
all who go down to the dust
whose life is undone.” (30)

Returning back up to the earth’s surface, our poet gazes far into the future as he expresses confidence that his progeny will worship and serve God with the same fervor as he:
My seed will serve Him.
It will be told to the master for generations to come.
They will proclaim His bounty to a people aborning,
for [all] he has done.” (31, 32)

As we have observed many times already, for the Jews it is a person’s descendants who ensure whether or not he or she will be remembered down through the ages. Here at the very conclusion of this psalm which began on such a desperate note that God had forsaken him, our psalmist ends looking far into the future, confident that generations to come will know that God is always at their side and will worship him.

The trajectory of this marvelous psalm reflects a path of spiritual discovery from feeling completely abandoned by God and desperate up to the heights of assurance that God will not only be with the psalmist himself, but also for all the generations yet to come. It is a brilliant encapsulation of life as a walk of growing faith in who God is—and more importantly, the fact that God is with us.

Genesis 41:17–57: Today’s reading opens with the Pharaoh describing his dream to Joseph, who has just announced to Pharaoh and his court, “It is not I; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” (16) The first dream is seven fat cows being consumed by “seven other cows came up after them, poor, very ugly, and thin.” (19) Pharaoh’s second dream involves the same fat/ thin theme, only this time, it’s “seven ears of grain, full and good, growing on one stalk,” are consumed by “seven ears, withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind.” (23).

Joseph explains that “the dreams are one, and the same” and emphasizes that it is “God [who] has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.” (25). The prisoner then explains that the dream means seven years of plenty will be followed by seven years of famine. Once again, invoking God as the source of his insight, Joseph explains the fact that “the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about.” (32).

While Joseph’s seemingly effortless interpretation is impressive what is even more impressive is that Joseph suggests to Pharaoh precisely what he should do about the upcoming 14 years: “therefore let Pharaoh select a man who is discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land, and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plenteous years.” (33, 34) and that this overseer should supervise the storage of that food so that it “shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to befall the land of Egypt.” (36)

After looking around his court, the Pharaoh asks, “Can we find anyone else like this—one in whom is the spirit of God?” (38) Of course the answer is standing right in front of him. Remarkably, the Pharaoh immediately accepts that Joseph’s God is authoritative and has bestowed this wisdom on the young man standing in front of him: “Since God has shown you all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you.” (39) The Pharaoh appoints Joseph as the man in charge of the program and at the age of thirty, Joseph ascends to enormous power as Pharaoh’s second-in-command, enjoying all the perks that come with high office, including a wife.

Joseph’s food program is wildly successful and he “stored up grain in such abundance—like the sand of the sea—that he stopped measuring it; it was beyond measure.” (49) In the meantime, he has two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. In the names of his sons we encounter Joseph’s autobiography. Manasseh means “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” (51). In short, Joseph has begun a new life; the old one is no more. Ephraim means “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my misfortunes.” (52), which is certainly the case.

So, does Joseph have relevance for us beyond being a great story? I think that Joseph’s journey against his will from an old life to a startlingly better life represents our own Christian walk when [in the spirit of Oswald Chambers] we abandon everything, including our egos, to God and let God take us where he will. Throughout his entire story, Joseph constantly trusts God and just as important is always clear to all that anything he is able to accomplish comes straight from God.

Joseph has  turned everything completely over to God, never forgetting that it is God who gets all the credit for what has happened. Joseph has never said, ‘Hey, I’m pretty good,’ nor has he ever indicated that he is master of his fate. Would that we do the same.

Matthew 14:15–24: We witness the earth-bound managerial expertise of the disciples when they come to Jesus after a long day of preaching and suggest that he “send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” (15). I know if I were in the same place, I would say exactly the same thing. After all, it’s simple logistics. People need to eat. But Jesus is always thinking beyond logistics and sees a entire other dimension when he replies, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” (16). I’m pretty sure the disciples felt that at this moment Jesus was being an unrealistic dreamer with his head in the clouds.

Logisticians that they are, they’ve already taken a picnic inventory of the crowd and know that only two fish and five loaves of bread are available. Their earthly logic is irrefutable: there’s just not enough to go around. Of course, Jesus ignores their realistic advice and asks them to bring the loaves and fishes to him. We know that what ensures to the tune of 12 baskets of leftovers.

The usual interpretation of this  miracle story is that God always provides beyond our fondest hopes. But I think another way of looking at it is the rational expectations and logic of the disciples as over against Jesus’ seemingly irrational actions. We humans—especially we engineers—look at life as a logic chain: A leads to B leads to C. Hungry crowd—>low food inventory—>send the people off to find their own food. But Jesus is just so annoyingly irrational because he sees the far larger picture. As a result he constantly wants to do the illogical thing. And because he’s not boxed in by logic great things happen.

The lesson here for me is that faith is not always about rationality. Jesus not only thought outside the box; he acted outside the box. He took risks and the consequent rewards were far greater than any rational act could have ever produced. Am I willing to take bigger and, yes, even irrational risks in the name of Jesus. Who knows what great things might result?

 

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