Words and Deeds
Joseph Reveals Himself to His Brothers
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.
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.
Things That Defile1
Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
The Canaanite Woman’s Faith2
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
What is more important, your words or your deeds?
I attended a city-wide prayer meeting this week addressing the problem of racism in our community in light of the recent events in our nation. I expected social commentary and some light political engagement – both of which I thought were appropriate for that moment. I was surprised by the theological debate that came out of that meeting. It was not particularly pointed or argumentative, and even though there were a number of pastors and theologians present, the debate actually came out amongst the lay persons.
What debate am I talking about? The question of whether or not we needed to address the problem with racism with words “prayers” or actions “prayers with feet on them”. Some wanted to put words as more important than action. Others felt differently. You might be inclined to think it was a racial distinction, but it is a divide that crosses over race, gender, and every other possible divide. It wasn’t a sharp distinction either. I’m sure everyone present would have agreed that both words and actions were necessary. The reasons for emphasis dug down deeper to the concept of responsibility. Who is responsible for righting wrongs, us or God?
Those who lean a little more heavily on God’s responsibility typically favor prayer over action, whereas those who lean a little more toward our own responsibility lean more toward action than prayer. Please understand that both are necessary. I have met very few people who truly opt for only one or the other. But let us look at some scripture to see where words and actions fit into our faith.
Joseph, used words to threaten and actions to frame his brothers falsely as thieves, perhaps in order to get his whole family reunited in Egypt. Then he used his words to forgive and his actions to bless his family. He used words and actions for both good and bad, motives set aside.
We often think that right acts can make up for wrong words, but Jesus taught that it is our words that defile us, not what we eat. The next extension of that teaching is that words are more important than actions. That is not what Jesus said, it is an interpretation of His meaning. Following that teaching, Jesus engaged in some word banter, which appears slightly ruder than normal with a Gentile woman. However, He ends those “wrong words” with a “right action” of healing her daughter. What are we to make of all this?
I don’t think right or wrong actions or words really compensate for each other. Instead, I believe our words interpret our actions the way stage lighting directs our gaze and understanding of where to look and how to understand a play. Actions alone can be misunderstood, so we use our words to explain them. Words alone explain nothing though and sound hollow, like a hidden narrator on a blank stage.
What does this mean about God, us, and responsibility? God uses His words to explain and interpret His actions. We should take our cue from Him. Our prayers need feet and our feet need prayers. Taking responsibility in our world to make things right is not a matter of control (and when it becomes so, we are in the wrong), it is a matter of compassion. Do we care enough to follow God into places that are beyond our ability to fix, to carry grace there and serve God in whatever capacity He leads us?
Where do you see wrongs that need to be made right?
What places of injustice do you see God already working in?
What is your responsibility there?