“But remember me when it is well with you; please do me the kindness to make mention of me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this place. For in fact I was stolen out of the land of the Hebrews; and here also I have done nothing that they should have put me into the dungeon.” Genesis 40:14-16, NRSV
In America, we like to hold up the image of the “self-made” man or woman. We think of people who have worked hard and overcome disadvantages and have gained a measure of success, money, and respect. We applaud people who seem to pull themselves up by their boot straps.
But the story of Joseph reminds us that we can also be buffeted by forces beyond our control. One way to see what happened to Joseph is to see that no matter what he did, his brothers would have had ill will toward him because of the father’s favoritism. That was beyond Joseph’s control. And he certainly had no control over his brothers’ plans to get rid of him.
Joseph also has no control over his master’s wife who frames him for rape. Nothing he could do could significantly change that situation. So he is in prison. How will he get out of prison?
Again, his release is also out of his control. He asks the cupbearer to put in a good word for him when he is released from prison. Will this man help Joseph? Will he remember to make Joseph’s case to Pharaoh? Will he help Joseph? Joseph has no control over this either.
While we may want to celebrate the accomplishments of individuals, while we may think that we are to be praised for what we have made of ourselves, the truth is that there are many other factors that contribute to our success over which we may have no influence or control. For instance, it may just be that we were born in a country that has roads and schools and electricity and plenty of food. And we benefit from that. Similarly, when we are in a bad way, yes, we may have made a mess of things, but there may very well be factors beyond our control that have contributed to the challenging circumstances.
While there is much that we can influence in our lives, while we need to take responsibility for our actions and choices, the story of Joseph reminds us that our lives can be influenced by the behavior of others, for good and for ill. We are not free, independent agents going it alone through this world. Our lives are intertwined. We impact one another.
The story of Joseph reminds us that we are interdependent. We need each other. There are those who need my help and my influence. And I need others to live the life that I am called to. May I be grateful for all those who have made a positive contribution to my life, even those I do not know and cannot name. Amen.