The life of Joseph has a lot of drama. Joseph’s life reminds me of a suspense-filled, gay soap opera. Joseph is from a rather dysfunctional family. In Joseph’s life, his favor and status in his family rises and plummets and rises again. During the height of his popularity at home, Joseph’s father gives Joseph a pride coat, a coat of many colors. A combination of the pride coat and Joseph’s vision, where he predicts he will have a superior role in the family, sends his status plummeting. His jealous brothers sell Joseph is sold into slavery in Egypt.
Years later, we pick up the story. There is a famine. Joseph now holds a powerful position in Egypt. Joseph’s brothers end up purchasing desperately needed food from Joseph. The part of Joseph’s life we are looking at this week has to do with when Joseph came out to his brothers.
Joseph could control himself no longer before all of the bystanders; he called out, “Make every man withdraw.” No one was present when Joseph made himself known to the brothers, although he wept so loud that the Egyptians heard of it and the Pharaoh’s household heard of it. Joseph said to his brothers, “Pray come near.” When they came near, he said, “I am your brother Joseph whom you sold into Egypt.” Now be not vexed or angry with yourself that you sold me here, for God sent me in front of you to be a preserver of life.” — Genesis 45:1-5 (Moffatt Bible)
We are not sure why Joseph asked everybody but his family to leave. There is speculation Joseph asked everybody to leave so the Egyptians would not know that his brothers sold him into slavery. There are other possible explanations. As a man in leadership, I am not sure Joseph wanted to look weak, by showing a lot of emotion in front of people who were not part of his family.
The story of Joseph coming out is a Biblical story to which gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people can relate. Coming out is never easy. Tears and strong emotions are often part of coming out and tears were part of Joseph’s coming out. And they are often part of our coming out.
Joseph reveals himself to his brothers when he says, “I am Joseph.” In my Bible, the sentence ends with a period. Given the amount of emotion in the passage, a period does not give adequate meaning. An exclamation mark is required!
Coming out is too powerful, far too important for wimpy punctuation, a mere period. Coming out demands an exclamation mark! Joseph’s identity is now known. No longer is he buried in an Egyptian closet. He claimed his inheritance, by claiming his identity. He is now known as his father’s son. When gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people come out, they can proudly claim their complete heritage as queer children of the King.
In the story of Joseph’s brothers coming to get food, Joseph’s aging father is mentioned fourteen times. Joseph’s father is Joseph’s first concern. As people of faith, our concerns need to be firmly centered in our heavenly Parent, our heavenly Father.
Joseph does something even more important than just say who he is. Joseph identifies himself as their brother. The man who was sold into slavery by his brothers, the man who was treated like a slave by his brothers identifies himself as a brother, as an equal. Even though he obviously holds all of the power, Joseph identifies himself as a brother. The Jewish commentator Sarna says that this is an assurance that while they did not behave as brothers Joseph was going to act as a brother. Joseph acted like a true brother! He forgave his brothers, his oppressors, by choosing not to oppress them when he had the opportunity and the power to be an oppressor.
Coming out is an act of establishing a sense of equality. There is no equality and no hope of equality in a closet, the land of the inferior. In many respects, coming out makes the statement, “I am equal. I deserve to be respected and treated with respect and dignity. I deserve the sunlight and the Sonlight ever bit as much as everybody else.” The action of coming out takes a person out of the darkness of solitary confinement and oppression into enhanced equality and light.
The next item of concern for Joseph is the health of his brothers. Joseph has already forgiven his brothers or he would not be concerned about their health. Verse 5 “now be not vexed or angry with yourself that you sold me here” shows that Joseph wants his brothers to forgive themselves for the harm they did him and for their sins against both Joseph and God.
The story of Joseph is a story of unimaginable wrongs. And it is a story of unimaginable forgiveness. I am not sure which is more unbelievable, the sins against Joseph or Joseph’s forgiveness. The sins are almost unspeakably bad and the forgiveness is almost unspeakably wonderful.
October is Coming Out Month. October is also the month Matthew Shepard was murdered in a brutally vicious hate crime. The history of the queer community has been scarred with many painful experiences and memories. The last several years during the fall we experienced high-profile queer teen suicides in both the United States and Canada. As a community, going through difficult times, we can learn from the story of Joseph.
Even the most personally painful and damaging sins can be forgiven. We do not have to carry the anger and hatred with us. We can leave the burden of hatred, bitterness and misery here today. Pain in life is compulsory, but long-term misery and bitterness is optional and we do not have carry thousands of pounds of misery and bitterness on our shoulders every day.
I think it is Archibald Heart, the Dean Emeritus, Department of Clinical Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, who says to the effect that forgiveness is when we give up the ability, the right to strike back, to hurt those who hurt us. Those who have the most power have the most opportunity to hurt back, so they must conquer the most to forgive. Joseph gave up his power to assume the role of a brother, of an equal. Becoming an equal showed true forgiveness was in his heart.
Offering forgiveness is not the same as a serf kowtowing to powerful ruler. I think true forgiveness can only come from equals to equals. For slaves, being nice and polite, even after cans of garbage are dumped on their heads is not an act of forgiveness; it is their job, because slaves do not have the right to strike back when their owner offends them.
Because forgiveness was given and relationships were restored, the family was able to be a family again. Through forgiveness we can build a bridge to create relationships, valuable relationships that will last for years.
In spite of the bad, in spite of the pain, in spite of the misery, good can be found. The family Joseph grew up in was majorly screwed up. Out of dysfunction can come healthier relationships and a healthier, more vibrant society. God has the ability to help bring healing to society, because God specializes in creating good things out of the swirling void of life. God is asking us to be part of a new creation, a creation based on the honesty of leaving behind closets and on forgiving honest, open relationships, based on equality.
A lifelong counselor, teacher and educator, having worked in elementary and secondary education for 25 years, Gary Simpson is a member of the Canadian Counseling and Psychotherapy Association and has spoken and led workshops on gay-straight alliances, bullying, spiritual self-defense, gay Christian identity, and the needs of GLBT youth and young adults.
Currently studying at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, Calif., he holds a B.Ed. from Union College in Lincoln, Neb., an M.A. in Guidance and Counseling and Ed.S. in Educational Psychology from Loma Linda University in Riverside, Calif., a Master’s in Religious Education from Newman Theological College in Edmonton, Alberta, and a Certificate in Sexuality and Religion from Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif.