The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.



Whose side are we on?

by Mike Stavlund

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 45:1-15

For Sunday, Aug. 14, 2011: Year A—Ordinary 20

It is a beloved theme in many of our films and plays and stories: the hand of fate that protects and preserves a person or a family for their special work in the world.

Chosen Once Again.

This theme runs rampant through the Joseph stories culminating in a triumphant narrative twist in Genesis 45 where the evil intended by Joseph’s brothers is reversed toward some serious goodness.

Even Joseph can’t believe it, and miraculously overflows in love toward the bitter brothers who sold him into slavery many years before. He will bring his now-desperate, destitute, and starving family to the prosperous kingdom of Egypt to ride out the remainder of a 7-year famine in relative comfort.

The reason for this turn of events? Joseph makes it clear: “God sent me [to Egypt] before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.” The Chosen People, chosen once again.

Who is In, and Who is Out?

Who is God for? Who will get God’s special blessing? The Lectionary readings for this Sunday seem to play ping-pong with this question,

batting various answers back and forth. Is God out to bless a select group (the descendants of Joseph’s family), or for all of those who will follow after God and seek justice (as in the passage from Isaiah)?

Isaiah makes it clear that ‘foreigners’ especially will be included, in spite of many Biblical claims to the contrary. The passage from the Psalms suggests that God’s family includes ‘all nations’, and in Romans, Paul seem to (once again) land on both sides of the fence.

We see exclusivism in Exodus, inclusivism in Isaiah and the Psalms, and an equally mixed message in Matthew. In the Gospel passage, Jesus is questioning the very heart of the Pharisee’s faith: that they are God’s chosen people. He boldly proclaims they are not ‘insiders’, but *outsiders* who are so clueless and wrongheaded that they don’t even recognize it. Then after turning toward the infamous region of Tyre and Sidon, he first dismisses, then affirms the faith of a Canaanite woman– a representative of the ancient enemies of Israel.

Where do we Stand?

Most of us see ourselves as graciously grafted into God’s family. Yet like immigrants to a new land, once we have learned the language we tend to look askance at those who would like to follow after us.

While we’re cheering for passages like Isaiah and Matthew, we’re more comforted by passages like Exodus and the “chosen people” metaphor. We want God to call us out, care for us, and specially preserve us (whether or not we’re actually carrying out our part of the covenant). We want to be special. We want to be preserved. We want to be treasured.

The Hardest Question

Is God’s tent big, or small? Or does it have different entrances? Are we guarding the door, or throwing it open?


Mike Stavlund writes from a 5-car pile-up at the intersection of his Christian faith and real life. A husband of over 15 years and a father of 4 children, he lives with his wife and 3 daughters in a small house outside Washington, DC. He’s a part of an innovative emergence Christian community called Common Table, a co-conspirator with the Relational Tithe, and a proud part of the collective called Emergent Village. He is the author of the manuscript “Force of Will”, and blogs at Mik