16 March 2012

Harmony, Hope and Hospitality

‘Joseph Dwelleth in Egypt’ (c. 1896-1902), by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902), gouache on board (23.2 x 27.7 cm), the Jewish Museum, New York

Patrick Comerford

Friday, 16 March 2012, Morning Prayer:

Genesis 47: 1-31; Psalm 26; I Corinthians 9: 16-27

On Monday morning, [Dr] Katie [Heffelfinger] introduced us to Old Testament spirituality, and there have been good efforts to emphasise Old Testament spirituality in the life of the chapel throughout this week.

From Tuesday morning to this morning [Friday], the daily lectionary readings for Morning Prayer in the Church of Ireland have been from the Vayigash or Vaigash, which is the eleventh weekly Torah parshah portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading.

The Vayigash constitutes Genesis 44: 18 to 47: 27, and is generally read in December or January. It takes its name from the Hebrew word (וַיִּגַּשׁ – “and he drew near” or “then he drew near”), which is the first word of the parshah or portion, translated in the NRSV as: “The Judah stepped up to him and said …”

In the portion, Judah pleads persuasively on behalf of his brother Benjamin, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, Jacob comes down to Egypt, and Joseph’s administration of Egypt saves lives but transforms all the Egyptians into bondsmen.

I want to refer briefly to three ways in which traditional rabbinical thinking has understood or approached this morning’s passage:

Firstly, the rabbis pointed out that this parshah, and its accompanying haftarah or portion from the Prophets (Ezekiel 37: 15-28), both tell stories of the reconciliation of Jacob’s progeny.

Appropriately, then, we have been reminded a few times this week of the Psalmist’s words (Psalm 133: 1-2):

How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down over the collar of his robes

Secondly, for the rabbis, Jacob’s blessing of Pharaoh (verse 7) enacts the earlier promises in this book (see Genesis 12: 3, 22: 18, 26: 4 and 28: 14) that through the descendants of Abraham the other families of the earth would be blessed. The report of Genesis 47: 27 that the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied finds an echo in Exodus 1: 7.

Thirdly, among the many Rabbinical interpretations of Genesis 47, Rabbi Jose said that while the Egyptians befriended the Israelites only for their own benefit, they were, nevertheless, rewarded for their hospitality. He concluded that if Providence thus rewards one with mixed motives, Providence will reward even more one who selflessly shows hospitality (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot, 63b).

So, here we have:

● the value of dwelling together in harmony in the family of faith;

● hope for God’s blessings to all nations and peoples through the family of faith;

● and the importance of hospitality, whether it is half-hearted or, even better, full-hearted.

These are three important themes – harmony, hope and hospitality – to take away with us today from this morning’s Old Testament reading.

The Collects:

Merciful Lord,
Grant your people grace to withstand the temptations
of the world, the flesh and the devil
and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ Our Lord, Amen. Amen.

‘Joseph and His Brethren Welcomed by Pharaoh’ (before 1903), watercolour by James Tissot

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This reflection was shared at Morning Prayer on Friday 16 March 2012, and the illustrations were used on the chapel service sheets.

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