Scripture: Genesis 50:15-26; Psalm 32:1-7; Matthew 14:13-21
The Apostle Paul would write to the Christians who were living in Rome, telling them,
“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all people.
If possible, so far, as it depends upon you, be at peace with all people.
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay says the Lord.’
But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink, for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.’”
Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-22)
Paul could have been writing a commentary about the life of Joseph, son of Jacob, and great grandson of Abraham.
Joseph was now the Prime Minister of Egypt, but his journey to that position had been a classic one of overcoming evil with good.
Joseph’s father, Jacob, had other sons by his wife, Leah, but Joseph was the first son by his beloved wife Rachel. He doted on him and showed favoritism toward him. Jacob made for Joseph a beautiful coat, a robe with long sleeves that had many colors, to wear. It was a sign that Joseph had been given the birthright, the inheritance, by his father. It was the kind of robe that royalty would wear. This was a troubled family, filled with jealousy by the other sons who did not get the same kind of attention from their father.
On a day, when Joseph was seventeen years old, he went out to the field where his brothers were watching over the herd of sheep. It was their opportunity to act on their hate for their brother. They would have killed him had not his half-brother Reuben intervened. Instead, they sold Joseph as a slave to a group in a caravan passing through on their way to Egypt. The sons killed an animal and soaked Joseph’s robe in the animal’s blood and then presented it to their father to convince Jacob that Joseph had been torn apart by a wild animal.
When the caravan reached Egypt, Joseph was once again sold, this time to Potiphar, the captain of the guard in Pharaoh’s court. As time passed, Potiphar’s wife sought to have an affair with this handsome young man. Joseph fled from her, but she accused him to her husband and Joseph was put in prison. So much evil we would say, and so it was, but it will also become a turning point in the life of Joseph and the family that remains in Canaan.
While in prison he begins to correctly interpret the dreams of the other prisoners. One of them will be freed and returned to Potiphar’s service. When Pharaoh has a strange dream and cannot find anyone to interpret it, that former fellow prisoner brought forth Joseph’s name. And thus begins the journey to overcoming evil with good.
Joseph interprets the dream, saves the nation of Egypt from the results of a severe drought, and enables Egypt to be the source of help to other nations, including Canaan where Joseph’s family still lives.
Long story, short, his brothers come to buy grain from Egypt. They do not recognize their brother. Through a series of visits the family is reunited by Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers and the family is relocated to the area of Goshen in Egypt. Had Joseph been less than forgiving, the entire family could have been imprisoned or killed. More evil and good will happen because of Joseph. A nation of Hebrews will grow up in Goshen. They will multiply. Joseph will die and a Pharaoh will come to power who did not know Joseph.
The Hebrews will find themselves enslaved by the Egyptians over many years, but God is preparing another leader in the person of Moses who will lead them to freedom. Out of evil will come good.
Travel now to the time of Jesus on earth.
- He was a Man who taught with authority;
- He was a Man who had compassion;
- He was a Man who constantly attracted crowds of people everywhere He went.
The people who crowded around Him were hungry in many ways, but one of them was physical hunger after a long day of sitting with Him in the countrysid
There probably would have been untold ways through which Jesus could have fed the people sitting around Him, but he turns to his disciples and involves them in partnership. Hunger was a problem that did not need to exist. Many of these people were poor and we would have described them as living “hand to mouth” every day. In Jesus they saw someone who cared enough to provide for their many needs, including hunger.
In each of these biblical accounts there are individuals who are important to making the lives of people better.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of those people who was also able to make the lives of people better. He personally did not do all of the work, but because he cared so deeply for all people, he inspired others to do the work.
If I had a year of Black History Months it would still not be possible to speak of everything involved in the Civil Rights movement. The Civil Rights Movement isn’t finished; as long as there is inequality for one, there is inequality for all.
On August 28, 1963, the March on Washington brought some 250,000 people to gather in front of the Lincoln Memorial and call for jobs and equal rights. It was at that March that Dr. King gave his I Have a Dream speech.
Sadly some would give their lives to bring about justice.
On September 18, 1963, a bomb was set off at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four little girls and injuring several other people during the Sunday School hour.
In 1964, Michael Schwermer, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney were working in Mississippi to register Black voters. Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price pulled them over, ostensibly for speeding, on the highway and put them in jail. He held them there while the Ku Klux Klan prepared for their murders. When they were released they were chased down on the highway in a secluded area and murdered in the woods. They were buried in graves that had been prepared in advance. Media attention brought the FBI into the case when the state refused to bring charges. Price and two others were convicted but eleven others went free. Forty-one years later Edgar Ray Killen, then 80 years old, was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 60 years in prison.
In February 1965 Malcolm X was murdered during a rally.
The next month, on March 7, known as Bloody Sunday, the marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge were met with dogs and fire hoses. It was something of a turning point as the nation saw on television the coverage by the media.
On August 6, 1965, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act to prevent the use of literacy tests as a voting requirement. It also allowed federal examiners to review voter qualifications and allow federal observers to monitor polling places.
So much happened because of so many people who were inspired and encouraged by Dr. King.
In his last sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta he said, “Say I was a drum major for justice. Say I was a drum major for peace. Say I was a drum major for righteousness. I want to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, be right on the Vietnam War question, and love and serve humanity.”
On April 3, 1968, he addressed the congregation gathered at Mason Temple in Memphis. His mood was almost fatalistic that night. During his sermon he said, “I’ve been to the mountain and I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you but I believe that we will get to the promised land.”
The next afternoon, April 4th, Dr. King was assassinated as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee.
Out of that evil came the determination of many others to continue the work that he had led.
He didn’t get there with us, and we have not yet arrived. It is a journey that must continue until we have become a Beloved Community in which agape love is practiced and we deeply embrace equality and justice.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Galatia, and to us, saying, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
There’s an old Negro Spiritual that is sung in many African American churches as the service begins. The words are:
“We’ve come this far by faith,
leaning on the Lord;
trusting in his holy word.
He’s never failed us yet.
Can’t turn around.
We’ve come this far by faith.”