When someone you love is in a pit, you are usually in one too.
It doesn’t matter if you are the parent or the beloved spouse, or the good friend, or the teacher, or cousin twice-removed, the caregiver, or the concerned neighbor, when someone whom you dearly love is in a pit, you are too.
So this story that we have today, it seems to be about Joseph, but it also says something about Jacob.
Joseph is the favored one. He is the entitled one. He’s the spy on his older brothers, the one with the narcissistic dreams of greatness and the one whom Jacob loves over and beyond his other children.
Why? Because Joseph is the child of his daddy’s old age.
Parents like to think that they will do things differently with each child they have. They may want to rectify past mistakes, see each new child or grandchild as an opportunity to break out of old patterns and maybe become the person they always thought themselves to be…before life or stress got the best of them and they felt they had to compromise those ideals, or that vision, or the promises that they once made when the child was a mere babe and not the whiney toddler asking the purple sippy cup and NOT the green one. Or when the surly teenager grunts a reply to an innocuous “How was your day, honey?” Or when the adult child has walked out of yet another relationship or fell back into addiction or puzzling behavior.
Parents like Jacob might see each new child as another opportunity to get it right, or at least not to mess up as badly as before.
Joseph is the favored one—the one whose daddy Jacob made that long glorious robe—a robe that was so fine that stardust and sunshine seemed to spill from its sleeves, a robe so fine, so lovely, that Joseph’s brothers simply seethed at father’s indulgence of their younger brother, a brother that learned over time how to win favor with his daddy by sharing unflattering and difficult things about his siblings.
You might think that this story is merely about how Joseph finds himself in a pit and gets sold into Egypt by a bunch of traveling salesmen.
But this is also a story about how Jacob will find himself in a pit as well. Throughout the Joseph saga—Joseph being sold into slavery, his imprisonment in Egypt, the manipulation and false accusations of the prison guard’s wife, and the rise to political power, Jacob the elderly father will worry and wonder. Jacob the parent will fret and fall into depression. Jacob the citizen will hurt not knowing what he doesn’t really want to know.
Because when someone you love is in a pit, you are usually in one too. And Jacob did know something about pits. He knew what it was like to be on the run, on the road, at odds with family, after swindling your relatives and stealing birthrights from your siblings. He knew what it was like to try to keep maintain a relationship with your first wife, as well as your second wife, as he tried to keep both Leah and Rachel happy and secure, but failed miserably at that task.
And so, it is somewhat—well, odd– that with all his life experience, Jacob will find himself in a pit again as his overt favoritism for his youngest, this child of his old age, this beloved among beloveds wreaks havoc for his son.
We know pits. And being in a pit is no fun for anyone, parent or child, or a country which is searching for its soul. When his brothers throw Joseph into a pit, it is Reuben, Jacob’s oldest child who tries to save the youngest from complete and utter destruction. Reuben’s is the voice of reason that temporarily calms the retaliation of his siblings and their bloodthirsty desire for revenge. It is Reuben, the oldest, who offers a milder punishment than the one that his brothers would inflict by tossing his brother in a cistern with the hopes of retrieving him later. And from that boldness, Joseph’s life is preserved in that moment and preserved for a journey that would take him from pit to power. Friends, who is our Reuben? Could it be you?
Or have you been thrown into a pit of late? Did you wake up one morning to find that you were surrounded on four sides by someone else trying to heap dirt and death on you? Do you wonder how you will step up and step out? Do you gaze up at the stars at night and feel that you cannot reach your dreams or some kind of more enduring stability?
Our pits may feel personal, but they are always communal. When Joseph was in that pit, his father and brothers were in there with him—if not physically, then mentally and emotionally. Because you don’t just throw someone into a pit without your actions coming back to haunt you. You don’t just ignore racism and white supremacy without burying your soul too. You don’t just extinguish the light outside of you without harming the light inside of you.
Whether it is economic issues, or social issues, health challenges, or a fatigue of spirit, being in a pit is like having one of those nightmares where you try to scream but can’t, or you try to run, but find yourself unable to move your legs. Everywhere you look, you see walls of dirt and barrenness. You feel exposed, vulnerable to conditions beyond your control, and you imagine others standing at the edge looking down on you.
Pits are miserable places, but they are places of promise, seedbeds of grace, and waystations of serious questioning and thoughtful reflection. Years later, after Joseph rises to power in Egypt, he remembers his brothers with love. He also, I think, remembers his entitlement, brattiness, and indulgent—though erring—father. In the pit, Joseph had time to think. As did his father.
In the pit, Joseph bided his time. In the pit, Joseph could shift his trust from only himself, and himself only, to God completely. In the pit, Joseph could practice looking up from that very low place and see stars drop to earth.
We pray today that little Quinn will never find herself in a pit, but likely, in the course of her lifetime, she will find herself in quite a few pits—some which others will have placed in her unsuspecting way, and some which she may have designed herself. And Cheryl and Chris, as her parents, you will likely share her pain—because when someone you love is in a pit, you are too.
But Quinn won’t be alone in whatever pit she finds herself. Her baptism is a cistern of grace to remind her that others will accompany her to higher ground. The church will remind her that God has not deserted her or left her to fend for herself. Because when someone we love is in a pit, we are too.
But the church or a faith does not merely prepare people for the inevitable pits that they may encounter along life’s journey. Our faith and love of Jesus prepare us to be willing to courageously enter into the various pits that oppress others or prevent them from being their God-given, flourishing and beautiful selves. We are not taught to merely stand on the sidelines and look down from ledges and edges to cheer on the unfortunate ones struggling therein. Instead, we are kin-dom trained to find a way to enter into those spaces and help to transform them in whatever holy way we can with God as our leader and guide. We are called to transform the pits and valleys of this world. And so our hope for little Quinn is that she will grow from pit to power, from one who may feel accompanied to one who accompanies. The change isn’t subtle.
Sisters and brothers, a story was told recently about a young woman who lost her life in Ocean City while vacationing with her parents. She was walking along the beach late at night when she tumbled into a 5 foot hole of sand that someone or a group of people had dug earlier in the day and which had been left open. Tragically, she suffocated in that hole of sand as she was unable to get out and as the tractors which typically clean the beaches at night were unable to see her.
With so much that is wrong and tragic in our world, with the recent events of Charlottesville and the increasing aggressive talk between North Korea and the US, it may seem inappropriate to mention this young woman’s death on the beach. But I mention it for two reasons. We, Christians, are trained to fill the holes and gaps that we encounter. We try to never, so long as it is within our power, to leave a hole unfilled. We are called to close the gaps. And certainly, we are called not to make the holes in our society’s fabric any deeper or wider.
Secondly, we are called to accompany each other in the night. Someone we love takes a walk and night falls fast. We may not be able to direct their steps but we can walk alongside, thereby lessening the opportunity for misfortune to gain the upper hand. And we can certainly signal to those who are cleaning the area that there may be collateral damage in the process.
It is spelled out more directly in the following story:
A man fell into a pit and couldn’t get himself out. A subjective person came along and said, “I feel for you down there.” An objective person came along and said, “Well, it’s logical that someone would fall down there.” A new ager came along and said, “You only THINK that you’re in that pit.” A Pharisee said, “Only bad people fall into pits.” A mathematician calculated how far he fell into the pit. A news reporter wanted an exclusive story on his pit. A fundamentalist said, “You deserve your pit.” A Calvinist said, “If you had been saved, you would have never fallen into that pit.” A realist said, “Now THAT’S A PIT.” A geologist told him to appreciate the rock strata in the pit. An IRS man asked if he was paying taxes on his pit. The county inspector asked if he had a permit to dig the pit. An evasive person came along and avoided the subject altogether. A self-pitying person said, “You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen MY pit.” An optimist said, “Things could be worse.” A pessimist said, “Things will get worse.”
Jesus seeing the man reached down and took him by the hand and lifted him out of the pit.