“Then 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. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 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.” Genesis 45: 1-3, NRSV
In the story of Joseph, we are told that Joseph is favored by his father. We are told of the lies the brothers tell the father about Joseph’s death. We hear about how the father sends the brothers to get food from Egypt. The father continues to direct the negotiations between the brothers and Pharaoh. In the scene when Joseph finally discloses his identity to his brothers, he asks about his father. Didn’t Joseph have a mother? What about the mother?
This story comes from a time when men were the main players, men told the stories, and men wrote the stories. It was a man’s world. That was a cultural dimension of the presentation of the religious tradition that we have inherited. It is not part of the core of our faith. Male dominance is not a core value of Christianity. Yet many expressions of Christianity have treated male dominance as a core teaching of Christianity instead of part of the cultural context in which Christianity emerged.
We see this merging of patriarchy and Christianity in the treatment of women in the church and the limitations placed on women’s leadership in the church, especially around the ordination of women. The fact that the church has held on to this archaic aspect of middle eastern culture which is not central to Christian beliefs has harmed the church and society. The church perpetuating patriarchy has contributed to the society perpetuating patriarchy, which is why women don’t have pay equity with men, and they don’t have full decision making power over their bodies, and they don’t have equal treatment in many things in society.
We can look at the story of Joseph and be stirred by the best and worst of the human spirit in the story. We can be moved by the spirit of God at work in the story and the fruits that are borne by faith. We can also reflect on the story and see it’s cultural context and know that the mother is left out of this story. It is an issue of cultural context. And a reminder that in our cultural context, because of our Christian faith and values, we cannot accept male dominance and the subjugation of women.
May we have the discernment to see our faith heritage for what it is. May we always be aware of the interplay of culture and religion. May we work to perpetuate the values of Jesus in our context even when that means challenging what has long been accepted. Amen.