Two men leave a store. One man walks to his Corvette, and the other walks to his moped parked right next to the ‘Vette. The guy with the moped admires the Corvette and the owner lets him get up close to take a look. Then he gets on his moped, the other guy gets into his ‘Vette, and they both leave the parking lot.
The guy in the Corvette decides to show off and race out of the parking lot. He stops at a stop light. Looking in his rear view mirror he sees the guy on the moped coming up behind him and then flying by at about 80 mph! So he guns his car, catches the guy on the moped and passes him again to show how fast he can go. At the next stop light, he sees the moped getting bigger in the rear view mirror again, and then whoosh! right past him as the light turns green.
Finally the Corvette and moped stop at the same light. ”How the heck did you go past me so fast like that!?” the guy in the Corvette asks.
The guy on the moped, all flushed and pale, says, ”MY SUSPENDERS ARE CAUGHT IN YOUR CAR DOOR!!!”
Each of us has some event, some experiences, some person or people, some action or words that stand in our lives like a boulder in the middle of a stream. We can’t get them out of the way, or it has become our life work either to move it or let it existence effect our lives.
It is that rock, that experience, those people that we have to deal with, that we need to overcome in order to mature morally. You’ve got to get your suspenders unstuck from the door of that car in order to be free of it.
What are we talking about here? We are talking about anything and everything under the sun. We are talking about whatever causes you to react to life, to someone else, to a situation instead of being freed from it.
If you can’t say no to something, if you don’t know why you’re getting into trouble because of something or someone, if you refuse to change or can’t change when you really ought to change, then you’re reacting to what has you in its grip. You’re stuck. Your life keeps beating itself up against that boulder.
You’re aren’t free. There’s something large in your life that has you trapped in its wake.
I went out for a bike ride Friday afternoon around five. Boy, it was still really hot and humid. I haven’t done much riding for months now. I used to
be able to go pretty far. I have a couple of different choices, short, long, or longer. I haven’t done any of the long or longer ones in four months, and certainly not lately in that type of heat.
But on Friday I wanted to do more than just the shorter ride of some 9 miles. I got all ready, and made sure to put as much ice water as I could in my bottle. I got on my bike and got going.
About two miles out I could feel the difference between how I used to be able to ride and now. Not the same push, not the same endurance, and not the same heat.
It’s at those moments that we start to wonder if we’re going to do what we set out to do. Doubt started to talk to me. “I don’t really need to ride that far. I can do it another time, when it’s not so hot.”
Fortunately, I came up with a good response. I realized it’s only a matter of time. Time will come and time will go and as long as I keep pedaling I will make it all the way. I can do it. Just stay on the bike, keep pedaling, and you will come back home in due time.
The seventeen mile ride took longer than it used to but I made it.
Don’t react to the negative impulse. You are free to overcome. You will make it if you just keep pushing forward, one step, one pedal at a time.
Today’s reading is not about Joseph. Judah is the center of this story. There’s no doubt about that. Judah is the developing, the changing character. Joseph, worthy though he is, is a much more static figure. It’s Judah who’s transformed and as we’ll see Judah who rises even higher than Joseph.
Judah of course was one of the brothers who first wanted to kill Joseph. It was Reuben who saved Joseph’s life by suggesting they trade him as a slave. Judah was there when the brothers told their father Jacob they found Joseph’s torn coat, a lie that broke Jacob’s heart.
He was a man who couldn’t care less about his father and his father’s happiness nor about Joseph, Rachel’s first son, his half-brother. But in the twenty years that have come and gone since Joseph was taken, something has changed. His heart has been changed. He’s a different man, a wonderful person.
It’s Judah who tells his father that they must go back a second time to get food or the whole family will die. Jacob, the father, doesn’t want this because it means he has to send his beloved Benjamin with them. It’s Judah who talks kindly to his father and tells him he will protect Benjamin, that he
will be the one who insure Benjamin’s return, no matter what it takes. It’s Judah who saves the family by being willing to sacrifice himself for them all.
The man who callously sold one brother into slavery now tells his dad he will become a slave if it means saving the other brother. The man who deceived his father and let him think his favorite son was killed by animals now gives up his own freedom for the sake of his father’s happiness.
The new mind and heart in Judah is impossible not to notice and to wonder at. Here is a man who was utterly careless of his father’s feelings before and now his primary motivation is love for his father.
To understand the full scope of Judah’s amazing moral maturity, you need to hear again verse 27-29 where Judah quotes Jacob’s hurtful words to Joseph that relegate Judah and the others not born of Rachel to second-class status.
“Then your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; one left me, and I said, Surely he has been torn to pieces; and I have never seen him since. If you take this one also from me, and harm comes to him, you will bring down my gray hairs in sorrow to Sheol.’”
Rachel is this wife, the mother of Joseph and Benjamin. But Jacob married Rachel’s older sister Leah first and had six sons by her. He also had four more sons by these women’s two maids. Jacob made clear in his words and actions to those boys growing up and now as men those ten men were not fully his sons.
Talk about a boulder in your life. Talk about something so easy to forever react against and never overcome!
But here’s the thing. Judah does overcome it. Nevertheless, no matter how Jacob feels toward Judah, Judah knows his feelings toward his father. Judah loves his imperfect father. Judah know his love for his father is based not on what his father can or cannot do for him, it’s based on his own ability to love him and value him. He is able to overlook his slights. He overlooks his father’s lack of love. He becomes his father’s servant. He sacrifices himself for his father.
There’s a little story told about Abraham Lincoln that I love. Lincoln was asked by a journalist once what he thought of some politician. He spoke of this man in positive terms, complimenting on his service to his country and his state. The reporter told Lincoln that this same politician didn’t have the same thoughts toward Lincoln, and in fact had called him some rather
unpleasant names. Lincoln didn’t hesitate to say, “You asked me my opinion of him, not his opinion of me.”
For so many people hearing someone say something negative about ourselves causes us to react in kind. We give as we’re given to. We aren’t free from the situation. We aren’t our own person. We let our standards fall on the first onslaught.
But that’s no way to be. Be your own person. Don’t react. Instead keep your standards. Hold on to your vision of who you are. Don’t give in or give it away just because of someone else’s actions or words.
You could call that transactional ethics. If you get something good from someone then you will give something good. If you get something bad from that person then you will give something bad to that person. You could call this reactive living as well.
You can see the powerlessness in this. It’s easy to see how this enslaves us and makes us depend on others and whether or not they will treat us the right way determines how we will treat them.
But Judah, he doesn’t need to get something from his dad before he gives. He is free to care for the entire family, including his dad, when his dad is no longer thinking what is in the best interest of all of them.
Twenty-two years earlier, he stood with his brothers and silently watched when the bloody tunic they had brought to Jacob sent their father into a fit of anguish; now he is willing to do anything in order not to have to see his father suffer that way again.
Twenty-two years earlier, Judah engineered the selling of Joseph into slavery. But now he’s grown to the point where he freely offers himself as a slave so that the other son of Rachel can be set free.
That change doesn’t happen overnight. When he set out on this journey I bet he had thoughts he never could grow up that much. But you know what he did. He took it one step at a time, one pedal at a time, one person and one action and one prayer and one trust and one decision at a time.
By the way, do you know where the word Jew comes from? How about the word Judea, meaning the land of the Jews? It comes from the word Judah. And do you know which of the twelve tribe David, Solomon and Jesus came from? I bet you do now. Judah.
Joseph may have a great story of rising to amazing heights from deep trouble but it’s Judah whose moral growth, whose amazing transformation into a man who loves even when not loved and who sacrifices for others
freely that becomes God’s story in due time. It becomes our story as Christians.
Overcome what stands in your way. Don’t react any longer to impulses and experiences and people that have determined your actions. Create a new life. Set yourself free to love.
Can anybody say Amen?