One Big Happy Family

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 37:1-28

Typology has gotten a bad rap in modernity, but Scripture isn’t Scripture without it. So both Old Testament passages on offer this week invite theological reflection on a provident God who orders deliverance to and through Jesus of Nazareth. I’ll concentrate on Genesis 37.

“This is the story of the family of Jacob” (37:2)—our story, people of God. It isn’t pretty. Bad reports, preferential loves, internecine hatred, braggadocio followed by “even more” hatred (37:8), conspiracy to kill, deception, and betrayal for 20 pieces of silver. This story of the family of Jacob—our ecclesial story—puts ugly on display. Wandering Arameans or settled herdsmen, our covenant family doesn’t seem to have what it takes to live together “peaceably” (37:4). Some clergy might want to draw solace from this grim portrait of depravity. “Our church, with its narcissists and knaves, its foolish patriarchs and cunning committees, is just the latest chapter in the story of Jacob’s family.”

True enough, but not particularly good news. Not the gospel.

Thank God this story of the family of Jacob is an antetype of the Jesus story that is coming. Stripped of his glory (37:23; Matthew 27:28; Phil. 2:7), cast down into the pit (37:24; Mt. 28:60), this is the one who will be exalted to the right hand of power and glory by the time he is thirty (Gen. 41:40-46; Acts 2:33-36; Phil. 2:9-11). The one Reuben thought he could rescue and restore (37:22) delivers Reuben and all the rest of our family.

How is this good news possible? “Because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24). How is it possible? “Because it was to save lives that God sent [him] ahead of [us]” (Genesis 45:5). How can it be? Because “he is our brother, our own flesh” (Genesis 37:27; Hebrews 2:14-18).

One big happy family? Hardly. That our church life is just one more ugly chapter in the story of Jacob’s family isn’t pretty, and it’s hardly news, let alone good news. That “the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family” (Hebrews 2:11)—Jacob’s family—is news, the best news possible. It is the gospel of Jacob’s son (Matthew 1:2), before whom shall bow every knee (Phil. 2:10) and the sun and moon and stars (Gen. 37:9) too. Thanks be to God.

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