“His master saw that the Lord was the him. . .” Genesis 39:3 NRSV
In the story of Joseph, we are told that Joseph is sold into slavery and is bought by Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh. Joseph is serving in Potiphar’s household. He must do whatever he is instructed to do. He has gone from being a favored son in a prosperous family to being a slave for someone of authority and means. And this all happens in a context that is foreign to Joseph.
The cosmology and religious practices of the Egyptians were far different from the Hebrews. Joseph was part of the first expression of monotheism. The Hebrews were to be committed to justice and mercy for those in need. So Potiphar and his household did not worship the God of the Hebrews. They did not practice the religion that Joseph did. They worshipped many gods. And there were rites and sacrifices that went with their religious practice.
Here comes Joseph who knows none of this. And yet Potiphar and his household see that God is with Joseph. Joseph is of a completely different religion, and yet the Egyptians see God in him. Without knowing about Joseph’s god, without knowing of Joseph’s religion, they see God in him.
This cross cultural communication is very interesting. This translation of what is of God from culture to culture is remarkable. How can you see something you don’t know about? But the Egyptian family of Potiphar sees something in Joseph, something they name as God.
Maybe they see that Joseph’s hard work. Maybe they see his cooperative attitude. Maybe they see that he is honest. Maybe they see that he is trustworthy. Somehow, the Egyptians see God’s presence in Joseph.
This aspect of the story has a word for us about showing and sharing our faith. Maybe we can do this without even mentioning God or church or Jesus or the Bible. Maybe by treating others as Jesus did, acting with concern and compassion, being honest and diligent, people will see God in us. Really, like Joseph, we shouldn’t have to tell people that we are Christians, they should just see it in our behavior. And we can demonstrate our faith, as Joseph did, without berating or questioning the faith of others. Joseph is a foreigner in a strange land, and yet the people see God in him. And he is respected for it. There’s a lesson for us here. May everyone see God in us, regardless of who they are or their religious background or lack thereof.
The other side of this is what we see. This story encourages us to see God in others. And maybe those others are of a different religion or culture. Maybe they are foreigners. Maybe they are immigrants. Can we see God in them as Potiphar and his household saw God in Joseph?
Our tradition affirms that God is in each and every person; that being human means being created with divinity within. May we look for God in ourselves and in others. May we live so that others, whoever they may be, see God in us. Amen.