Big brother, little brother

I’ve been reflecting a lot on the end of Genesis.  If you’re a regular reader, you know that I spent several posts wondering about the transformation of Israel (the person, not the nation.)

I had this idea that maybe Joseph was the end of a dysfunctional legacy of parents showing favortism.  There was this generations-long pattern of people seeking their own selfish interest even at the expense of family, more specifically, there was this pattern of younger siblings attempting to cheat older siblings out inheritances.  I thought maybe Joseph was the first biblical figure to get past that.  He certainly had his act together better than his dad and brothers!

But near the death of Joseph’s dad, Joseph presents his sons to him.  And Joseph engages in the same manipulation that’s gone on before, criss-crossing his dad’s hands in a blessing so that the youngest recieves the blessing intended for the oldest and vice-versa.

The more things change…

As I’ve tried to come to terms with what this is all about, I’ve been pondering some things.  We have the privilige of looking at the “Old Testament” through a lense that the ancients did not posess.

One of the most powerful aspects of Jesus’ teachings is sometimes called “The Third Way.”  Over and over again, Jesus is confronted with a multiple choice test.   The world presents us with two options.  Upon close inspection, these options are usually equally lousy.  Jesus solution, over and over again, is to give a solution that’s bigger than the question itself, that’s not limited to the narrow vision implied by the choices.  Jesus is asked “Which should we choose, A or B” And Jesus says “Choose C.”

Here’s how this connects up:

The world says that the eldest should recieve everything.  There are others who say that the youngest should get everything.  Or they say we should buck tradition for the sake of bucking tradition.  Or that it should be merit-based, and the offspring who somehow is “the best” (Whatever that means) deserves to recieve everything.

And the one who gets everything should be able to hoard his inheritance,or to spend it selfishly.

Through Jesus, we Christians are in fact the younger offspring.  And there is this strain of Christian thought that says “We are entitled to steal the inheritance which by traiditon would go to the oldest sibling: The Jews.  And once this inheritance is stolen, we are entitled to squander and hoard this inheritance in any way we wish.”

Jesus, I think, would reject the whole notion.   I think he would say that the traditionalists are wrong: and those who fight for the rights of the youngest sibling are wrong.

Jesus, I think, would say that like everything else, none of us truly owns our inheritance.  We prove whether or not we are legitimate care takers by what we do with it.  It does not matter if we are the older or younger siblings.  If we hoard it or squander it, we were not worthy caretakers. 

The question of who inherits what ends up having no practical value if we’re obliged to share it as soon as we recieve it.   Joseph ended up moving in the right direction.  He offered forgiveness and safety to his family.  But he didn’t have Jesus available in the same way that we do.  He was as lost without Him as all of us are.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

2 thoughts on “Big brother, little brother”

  1. Ownership.

    i believe ‘the third way’ involves these two principles primarily. The Gospel is in essence the notion that we don’t have the former, but are given the latter. i don’t think the OT departs from this really.

    The history of human behavior on display in the OT is largely an exercise in contrast – God’s character v. man’s. What a man’s father possesses is part of a legacy – it is to be built upon or squandered. The notion that the first born is by virtue of arriving first, the strongest and most capable is indeed antiquated. Yet in cases of an inheretance being ‘stolen’, it’s apparent that the ‘thief’ values the legacy more than the disabused party.

    This is a more admirable and worthy condition than simply having arrived first to the scene.


  2. What an interesting thing:
    the distinction between ownership and stewardship looks like it’s got a pretty narrow range of applications. But viewed widely, the thing is huge! I’m wondering if you were thinking about other examples of Jesus pointing to a third way… I’ll have to consider that.


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