I am your brother Joseph

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here...
— Genesis 45

Joseph is functional (narratively-speaking). He helps us connect the dots between the story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in Canaan and the story of the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. He also happens to be a real man with real pain who, by the grace of God, enacts reconciliation.

There is much here that might stun us. The fact that Joseph has tears left to cry (two decades have passed since his brothers devised their plan to do away with him)...that Joseph believes God has had a hand in his coming to Egypt...that Joseph has managed to become “a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his house (v.8)”.

As I get older, what stands out is what Joseph does with his experience of betrayal. What does he do with that hurt? Yes, he cries out at the beginning of the passage. One cry, however, cannot possibly do the work of metabolizing what happened all those years ago.

Joseph does what I struggle to do. He is able to identify with those who have hurt him. Not, who do you think you are? Not, you all are dead to me. But this: I am your brother, Joseph. “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt (v.4).”

He understands himself as connected to the very ones who failed to honor the brotherhood.

“Send everyone away from me,” is Joseph’s first move. He has just outed himself to the brothers on whom it has yet to dawn that this man was the seventeen year old they had sold up the river; or down the Mediterranean coast, as it were. He needs a moment.

Send everyone away from me is a natural response when we confront our sense of having been betrayed. The problem is not with that desire or even acting on that desire so as to get some solitude. The problem is in how we humans can stay there. After we have sent everyone away, we don’t always resurface to risk proximity – to identify ourselves as connected to those whose names represent sources of hurt.

When Joseph parts his lips to say “Come closer to me (v.4),” he becomes a moment for each of us to consider how we have or have not arrived at that place. How we get there, to expressing connectedness to those with whom there has been disconnect? Joseph doesn’t detail the process. He illumines the possibility.


Rachel May