1 Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So, no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.
4 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. 5 And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. 10 You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ 12 And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.
The word “Genesis” means “origin” and the Book of Genesis starts with the two Creation Stories and concludes with the death of Joseph (Jacob’s son) in Egypt. If the stories about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are historical, these events took place in the period from 1900 to 1700 BCE.
The Book of Genesis (like the Torah as a whole) is an amalgam of religious traditions, some of which are dated to about 950 BCE and some of which were developed as late as 450 BCE. Since the late 19th Century, Biblical scholars have recognized four major “strands” or sources in the Torah, called “J” (Yahwistic), “E” (Elohistic), “D” (Deuteronomic) and “P” (Priestly). These sources are identified (among other ways) by their different theological emphases, names for God, names for the holy mountain, and portrayals of God’s characteristics.
Today’s reading continues the story of Joseph. In the intervening chapters since last week’s story of Joseph’s being sold into slavery by his 10 older brothers, he was then sold to Potiphar, an officer of the Pharaoh who put him in charge of his own house. Potiphar’s wife tried unsuccessfully to seduce Joseph, then falsely accused him, and had him imprisoned. When in prison, Joseph (with YHWH’s help) interpreted dreams for the Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker. Later, Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams and Pharaoh placed Joseph in charge of the nation. Joseph’s interpretation of the dreams was accurate, and Egypt prepared for (and survived) a famine.
The famine also hit Canaan, and Jacob/Israel sent his 10 oldest sons to Egypt where they bought grain. Joseph did not identify himself to them when they came to Egypt. When the grain ran out again in Canaan, the 10 brothers (along with Benjamin, the youngest and favorite son of Jacob) went to Egypt. After Joseph devised a ruse by which the brothers unknowingly took Joseph’s silver cup, Joseph accused them of stealing it and threatened to keep Benjamin as his slave. Judah (the fourth oldest brother) agreed to be Joseph’s slave if Joseph would spare Benjamin. In Judah’s long speech, he even suggested that Joseph would effectively kill Jacob if Joseph did not agree to return Benjamin to Jacob (44:30-31). Judah’s selflessness showed he was a true brother to Benjamin and to his other brothers.
Hearing this affirmation of brotherhood, Joseph identified himself to his brothers in today’s emotional reading. In affirming that he was the “ruler over the whole land of Egypt” (v.8), The Jewish Study Bible notes that Joseph was (in effect) answering the question posed by his brothers in 37:8 “Do you mean to rule over us?”
The author of the story conveyed the theological idea that God controls everything – that Joseph’s being sold into slavery was God’s plan (v.5); God made Joseph “a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land” (v.8); and “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors” (v.7). Other parts of the Bible emphasize human agency to a greater extent.
It is not known where the “land of Goshen” (v.10) is located. The New Oxford Annotated Bible suggests that it is probably located in the eastern Nile delta.
The term “remnant” is a shorthand expression used in other parts of the Bible to designate those Judeans who were preserved in Babylon during the Exile and who were permitted to return to Jerusalem in 539 BCE when the Exile ended. Its use in today’s reading in anachronistic and reflects the late date at which the Joseph story was finalized.
1 Thus says the LORD: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.
6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant —
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
8 Thus says the LORD GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.
The Book of Isaiah is a composite of writings from three distinct periods in Ancient Israel’s history. The writings were compiled from about 700 BCE to about 300 BCE.
Chapters 1-39 are called “First Isaiah” and are the words of a prophet (one who speaks for YHWH – translated as “LORD” in all capital letters in the NRSV) who called for Jerusalem to repent in the 30 years before Jerusalem came under siege by the Assyrians in 701 BCE. “Second Isaiah” is Chapters 40 to 55. In these chapters, a prophet brought hope to the Judeans during the Exile in Babylon (587 to 539 BCE) by telling them they had suffered enough and would return to Jerusalem. “Third Isaiah” is Chapters 56 to 66 in which a prophet gave encouragement to Judeans who had returned to Jerusalem (which was largely destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE) after the Exile ended.
Today’s reading is part of Third Isaiah and is inclusive in tone. Speaking for YHWH, Isaiah affirmed that foreigners (Gentiles) who join themselves to YHWH and keep the sabbath will be joyful in the Temple, YHWH’s house (v.7). The NAOB notes that Sabbath observance is seen here as the distinguishing mark of the covenant with YHWH. The JSB says: “This passage shows the beginnings of the religious institution that later came to be called conversion, and rabbinic commentators understand the passage as referring to converts.”
In the omitted verses (2-5), Isaiah spoke for YHWH in giving eunuchs (generally, sexually mutilated persons) who observe the sabbath access to the Temple (v.4-5). These verses contradict the prohibitions in Lev. 21:18 and Deut. 23:1. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary understands the reason for the exclusion of eunuchs from “the assembly of the LORD” was because “it seemed improper for a person, deprived of the power of transmitting life, to associate with the God of life [citing secondary sources].”
In the period after the Exile, there was a tension between those who sought to keep Judaism only for Jews and those who were open to including Gentiles. Ezra and Nehemiah (who wrote around 450 BCE) were exclusivists who sought to keep Judeans “pure” by excluding foreigners, including the foreign wives some Jews in Jerusalem had married during the Exile (Ezra 10). An inclusivist position was taken by the authors of Third Isaiah, and the Books of Jonah and Ruth.
This disagreement continued into the First Century of the Common Era. In opposition to the exclusivist Sadducees, Jesus of Nazareth was clearly presented in the Gospels as an inclusivist. As shown in Acts of the Apostles and in the reading today from Romans, Paul saw the Jesus Follower Movement (which remained a Jewish sect for most of the First Century), as inclusive and welcoming to Gentiles.
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2a God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.
29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. 32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.
Paul’s letter to the Romans was his longest, last, and most complex letter. It was written in the late 50s or early 60s (CE) (about 10 years before the earliest Gospel (Mark) was written) to a Jesus Follower community that Paul did not establish. Among many messages in the letter, Paul sought to encourage respectful and supportive relationships between the Gentile Jesus Followers and the Jewish Jesus Followers in Rome.
The “backstory” is that in 49 CE, Emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome, including Jewish Jesus Followers. The next Emperor was Nero who reigned from 54 to 68 CE. Nero reversed his predecessor’s decree and allowed Jews to return to Rome. This return caused tensions within the Jesus Follower Community in which Gentiles had become prominent.
Paul died in 63 or 64 CE. Accordingly, the Temple in Jerusalem (which was destroyed in 70) was in full operation all during Paul’s life. As a Jew who was also a Jesus Follower, Paul saw the Jesus Follower Movement as part of a broader Judaism and continued to have expectations about the fullness of the Coming of the Messiah/the Christ. The term “Christian” had not been invented in his lifetime.
In today’s reading, Paul reaffirmed that he was an “Israelite” (v.1) and noted that God had not rejected the Israelites in favor of Gentile Jesus Followers. The NAOB describes the omitted verses and the conclusion of Chapter 11 as the “heart of the purpose” of the letter to the Romans. The NAOB continues: “Paul stated that he was obliged as apostle to the Gentiles to address the Christians of Rome and to give a solemn warning against arrogance towards the Jews.”
The NJBC summarizes this chapter as saying that Israel’s disbelief is only partial and is only temporary. In God’s plan, mercy will be shown to all, Jews included.
In other omitted verses (17-24), Paul introduced a metaphor of an olive tree to which the Gentiles who believe in the Christ have been grafted. The Jewish Annotated New Testament sees the tree as all who are in the family of God — Israelite branches as well as ones from other nations. Paul warned that the grafted branch (Gentile Jesus Followers) could be severed from the tree if it looked arrogantly upon the broken branches.
In the concluding verses of today’s reading, Paul warned against arrogance towards Jews (including Jewish Jesus Followers) by Gentile Jesus Followers (v.31-32). The JANT says: Paul urged the Gentile Jesus Followers not to be arrogant but instead to recognize that the grace with which they had been blessed should be internalized and turned to regard the Israelites’ suffering with a spirit of grace.
For Paul, the Jesus Follower Movement was a part of a reformed and expansive Judaism, one that was also open to uncircumcised Gentiles. Paul’s view was consistent with the inclusivism of Jesus in the Gospels and the inclusivism in Third Isaiah as seen in today’s reading.
10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12 Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15 But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16 Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
The Gospel of Matthew highlights Jesus’ origins and identity. Written around 85 CE by an anonymous author, the Gospel began Jesus’ genealogy with Abraham and depicted Jesus as a teacher of the Law like Moses. More than any other Gospel, Matthew quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures (using the Greek Septuagint translation) to illustrate that Jesus was the Messiah.
Because it was written after the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the Gospel reflected the controversies between the Jesus Followers and the Pharisees for control of Judaism going forward. Accordingly, the Gospel contains many harsh sayings about the Pharisees. The Gospel is aimed primarily at the late First Century Jewish Jesus Follower community.
The Gospel relied heavily on the Gospel of Mark and included all but 60 verses from Mark. Like Luke, Matthew also used a “Sayings Source” (called “Q” by scholars) which are stories and sayings found in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark and John. There are also a substantial number of stories that are unique to Matthew: the Annunciation of Jesus’ conception was revealed to Joseph in a dream (rather than by an angel to Mary as in Luke); the Visit of the Magi; the Slaughter of the Innocents by Herod; the Flight to Egypt; the Laborers in the Vineyard; and the earthquake on Easter Morning, among others.
Today’s reading has two passages that are not related. The first part of the reading is the continuation of a story about the Pharisees’ asking Jesus about his disciples’ “breaking the tradition of the elders” by not washing their hands before they eat. The “tradition of the elders” were regulations generally adopted in Judaism, but not contained in the Torah. These interpretations were also known as the “Oral Torah.” Jewish Tradition asserted that not only was the written Torah given to Moses, but also the Oral Torah, and that the religious authorities (the “elders”) were able to know and express these regulations. Eventually, the Oral Torah was written down in the Mishnah by 200 CE, and then was further interpreted in the Gemara by about 350 CE, and finally was codified in the Talmud in Babylon around 500 CE.
As the story continued in the portion before today’s reading, Jesus pushed back at the Pharisees by accusing them of breaking the commandment to honor one’s parents by engaging in a practice called “Korban.” Korban involved a vow to give funds to the Temple and using this as a reason not to support their own parents. The “theory” supporting Korban was that funds had been given to them by God and giving them to the Temple was giving them back to God. This exonerated them from having to support their parents. The NAOB points out that later rabbinic tradition said that the obligation to support one’s parents overrode a vow of giving funds to religious causes.
In today’s reading, Matthew portrayed Jesus as continuing his rejection of the Pharisees’ argument that failure to wash hands would “defile” (v.11) a person. The NAOB notes that in this context, “defiled” means being ritually unclean and therefore unable to participate in worship in the Temple. Continuing the pushback, Matthew says that Jesus referred to the Pharisees as “blind” (v.14).
The JANT observes that Matthew omitted Mark’s claim (Mk. 7:19) that Jesus declared all foods clean. For Matthew (given his Jewish Jesus Follower audience), the dietary laws remained in place but some traditions of the elders were not followed.
In the second pericope, Jesus went to Tyre and Sidon (v.21). Tyre and Sidon were cities on the Mediterranean Sea and were part of the Province of Syria. According to The JANT, these cities had been rebuked many times in the Hebrew Bible for their extravagant wealth [citing examples]. These cities were about 30 miles from Gennesaret (near the Sea of Galilee where Jesus had rebuked the Pharisees) and some scholars have speculated that (if the story is historical) Jesus was going to Tyre and Sidon for some R&R.
As he approached the region, a Canaanite woman (traditional enemies of Israel and Baal-worshipers) addressed Jesus as “Lord, Son of David” – a Jewish messianic title. In their exchange, Jesus indirectly insulted the woman by referring to her and her child as a “dog” (v.26). Her rejoinder, however, caused Jesus to understand that his mission was not only to “the lost sheep of the House of Israel” (v.24) but was to all people – a theme reiterated by Matthew in the Great Commission (28:19).