God’s Sufficient Grace
The Dreams of Two Prisoners
Some time after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker offended their lord the king of Egypt. Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he waited on them; and they continued for some time in custody. One night they both dreamed—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison—each his own dream, and each dream with its own meaning. When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers, who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” They said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.”
So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, “In my dream there was a vine before me, and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms came out and the clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand; and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.” Then Joseph said to him, “This is its interpretation: the three branches are three days; within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office; and you shall place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. 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.”
When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was favorable, he said to Joseph, “I also had a dream: there were three cake baskets on my head, and in the uppermost basket there were all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating it out of the basket on my head.” And Joseph answered, “This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days; within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head—from you!—and hang you on a pole; and the birds will eat the flesh from you.”
On the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, he made a feast for all his servants, and lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants. He restored the chief cupbearer to his cupbearing, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand; but the chief baker he hanged, just as Joseph had interpreted to them. Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.
Jesus Stills the Storm1
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”
Some days I am terrifyingly picky. I get ideas that I want to work out in specific ways. I believe that if I can think it, it should be both possible and probable in reality. Reality usually tells a different story and lets me know that I have an active imagination.
I want everyone to have some kind of happy ending. The story of Joseph frustrates me again and again, because it seems like people suffer without reason, particularly Joseph, the hero of the story. Things seem to work out wrong in three separate ways here.
First, Joseph, a baker, and a cupbearer are all imprisoned. Joseph is imprisoned wrongly, due to the lust of his master’s wife. We are given no reason for the imprisonment of the other two, but the kind of camaraderie they form draws out our sympathy and hints at injustice in their plight as well. Why should these three be suffering?
Second, they all have strange portentous dreams, and Joseph (who has dealt with his own dreams) asks God for an interpretation of them. God tells them that these dreams show that one (the Baker) will be executed while the other (the cupbearer) will be granted mercy and released. Why would God communicate through powerful dreams an arbitrary message of death and destruction for one and life and freedom for another?
My last problem with this story is, after the dreams come true, the cupbearer, who received mercy from God and help from Joseph simply forgets him. Joseph is left sitting in the dungeon. Why would such a vessel of mercy continue to be punished?
These stories rake against my sense of justice. It makes me want to dig for more information. Was the baker actually guilty of something? Was the cupbearer? Did someone poison Pharaoh’s food and these two were the only ones who touched it before Pharaoh received it?
Sometimes I miss it, having read it so many times, but this same sense of injustice occurs even stronger when Jesus, the only human who could ever command the wind and the water with but a word, dies on a cross, while the crowd, and even his fellow crucified men taunt him saying, If you really are the Son of God… and the truth is, He could have saved Himself. God could have saved Him, but Jesus chose to die.
Joseph, along with you and I, are not strong enough to choose humility for our sake or others. We are not likely to say, “Oh, I think a few more months in the dungeon would be good for my soul, so no, don’t let me out yet.” We would make a run for the door the first time it was opened, and possibly, like the cupbearer, forget to thank whoever held it open for us. Too often, God has to hold us down in humility, before we soak it up properly. So it is that God’s grace, that is sufficient for our weakness, and which sometimes looks like injustice and unnecessary suffering, actually helps us to be more like Jesus and identify with the suffering of others.
Where has God’s grace led you to experience suffering?
How has that experience changed you?
- (Mk 4:35–41; Lk 8:22–25) ↩