Forming Faith Blog

Joseph, Blessings, and Me (Genesis 39)

If you haven’t ordered your Narrative Lectionary (or Revised Common Lectionary) faith formation resources for the 2022-2023 program year, it’s not too late! As soon as your payment is processed, you can download the Fall, Winter, and Spring resources and put them to use right away.

The story of Joseph reads like a novella. I can identify with the protagonist and learn a lot from what it says—and doesn’t say—about God’s presence and blessings.

Great Egyptian pyramids, which were around in the time of Joseph.
Photo by David McEachan on
Hope and Blessings

This reading from Joseph’s story marks the third week of the Narrative Lectionary and the halfway point of our theme of “God’s Promises Bring Hope.” So far, we have looked at the story of Noah and the flood and God calling Abram. Now we must reflect on Joseph’s successes and suffering as a slave in Egypt.

Joseph is the son of Jacob (renamed Israel), one of thirteen siblings (don’t forget Dinah), and the great-grandson of Abraham and Sarah. As the descendant of Sarah and Abraham, Joseph is a part of God’s promise to them, a promise of presence and blessing.

For a different reflection on this text, you can read my blog post from four years ago on “Joseph’s Hope.”

A Warning

Before getting into my central reflection on this text, it is important for all of us to keep in mind some of the possible ramifications of one of this story’s plot points. Joseph is knocked down from his successes in Potiphar’s household by a false accusation of rape. This can be a sensitive subject for some of our faith formation participants, as there may be some (of any gender) who have experienced sexual assault or abuse, including some whose stories were dismissed. And false accusations do happen (although are very rare), and you might have someone who has suffered because of a false accusation. You may not be aware of any of this.

Sexual assault and abuse are not topics appropriate for all settings, but there is a possibility that victims can be present even in classes of young children. Even if you don’t address the topic, it is in the text you will be reading, so it is important that you are aware of and sensitive to the traumatic experiences that some may have.

An Exciting Story

And now back to the story. The greater story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis is my favorite section of this book of beginnings. It is often considered an early type of novella (mini-novel). It is an exciting story with twists, turns, and a (mostly) happy ending. And I love stories. I have talked about the power of storytelling in previous posts, but one of the points is that well-told stories have the power to teach and change us in ways that facts and figures cannot.

Identifying with the Protagonist

One of the powers of a story is to draw us in so that we experience the events like the hero—the protagonist—does. When we identify with the protagonist, then their story becomes our story, and isn’t that part of the point of faith formation? To bring people into God’s story and to see their own lives as part of that ongoing narrative?

While very few of us have been sold into slavery, imprisoned, and eventually grown to become the second-most-powerful leader in a kingdom, we can still see ourselves in Joseph’s blessings and suffering, and we can hear the promise that, just as the Lord was with Joseph, so the Lord is with us, too.

God’s Love and Success?

However, there are limitations to our identification with Joseph and some problematic conclusions we can make from this story. The biggest can be the direct connection between God’s loving presence in Joseph’s life and his magnificent material successes. If God’s presence gave Joseph success and favor, does that mean that God’s presence will give me success, too? And when I experience failure and suffering, does that mean that God isn’t present with me? [While we—myself included—say that God was present with Joseph during his suffering, the text doesn’t actually say that. God’s presence is only mentioned in connection to success and prosperity here.]

God’s Presence in Suffering

We know from the rest of Scripture that God’s presence does not necessarily give outward success and can even itself lead to suffering (ask a prophet, any prophet, and especially our Messiah Jesus).

It can be a helpful exercise to look back on the suffering we have experienced in our own lives and try to identify God’s presence and blessings there. But another warning. This reflection can be powerful and uplifting for some. But others won’t be able to see any presence or blessing in the suffering they or someone they love has experienced. You might personally believe that those things exist, even if they cannot identify them. However, it can be detrimental to some if you insist on defining their personal, lived experience. As with many things, claiming something like this for yourself is powerful. Claiming something like this for others can be harmful.

Faith Formation Connection

Let’s look at some questions you can reflect on in your faith formation setting.

How can you…

  • Encourage your faith formation participants to identify with Joseph, to see themselves in this story?
  • Help participants see God’s presence and blessings in their lives, including during hard times?
  • Support participants who do not see God’s presence and blessings in their lives, especially during hard times?
  • Be sensitive to those for whom the events in the story bring up bad, or even traumatic, memories?

God’s blessings on your ministries,

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 11 to May 28), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download a free activity “Prayer Partners” from our intergenerational worship resource Living the Word: Cross+Gen Worship (NL). While this activity is written for intergenerational, interactive worship, it can be used in many faith formation settings, adaptable for many age groups.

2022-2023 Faith Formation Resources

The program year is upon us. Have you made all your decisions for your congregation’s faith formation needs? It’s not too late to order! As soon as your payment is processed, you can download the Fall, Winter, and Spring lessons for our Narrative Lectionary and Revised Common Lectionary resources.

At Spirit & Truth Publishing, we might just have exactly what you are looking for:

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