God Tells Joseph to Create a Federal Program

Monday, March 5, 2012 — Week of 2 Lent

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 953)

Psalms 56, 57, [58] (morning) 64, 65 (evening)

Genesis 41:46-57

1 Corinthians 4:8-20(21)

Mark 3:7-19a

[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

I write a column in our regional newspaper, and this email/blog goes out to a varied public. From time to time I comment about political actions that I wish our government would take. I often express a desire that our society organize our economic and political resources on behalf of relief for the poor and vulnerable. I often implore elected officials to act for the creation of a more equitable society, and to urge the promotion of a system of social and economic justice that would create a nation and a world where everyone would have enough, not from charity, but as a product of the way the system is put together. I often see the federal government as an instrument for accomplishing these goals in our nation.

One of the most frequent critiques I receive is that I should not expect government to carry out ideals and programs that are rightly the responsibility of individuals and of the church. I am told that Jesus and the scriptures do not address political or governmental solutions to inequality or economic injustice. I am told that governmental programs are the problem, not the solution. Some conscientious writers tell me that social and economic ills are rightly addressed by individual hearts moved by the Biblical witness and by churches carrying out their mandate for service and outreach. Recently an earnest Christian neighbor emailed to tell me he knows of nowhere in the Bible, in the commandments of God or in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that support my interpretations about economic justice and security.

Today we have a story of God’s wisdom being exercised through Joseph to create an enormous federal program to organize the agricultural industry in order to prepare for a famine that the federal bureaucrat Joseph predicts. Joseph advises Pharaoh to nationalize a large portion of the surplus production during seven years of plenty and to put the excess grain in government storehouses until the coming time of famine. It is a form of heavy taxation during a windfall in order to provide for the needs of the future. (I think of the inevitable cycles of boom and bust in a capitalistic society, and the resulting spikes of unemployment and insecurity.)

God directs Joseph to provide for the needs of society through wise government, mandating the cooperation of citizens and business for the benefit of all. I think God expects such wise leadership from us today as well.

The powers of government — Pharaoh — can be used for good or for ill. In scripture we have Pharaoh following divine guidance and saving people from famine, including foreigners like Joseph’s estranged family who will come to Egypt for their survival, and we have Pharaoh oppressing God’s people by demanding increased economic productivity that becomes a form of oppression of laborers. God will call Moses to lead an economic protest, boycott and strike against the unjust labor policies that favor the powerful and wealthy over the weak and poor common workers. There is a lot of politics and business happening in these divine concerns.

The prophets regularly addressed the leaders of government and business. They spoke in God’s name on behalf of the creation of a just and righteous social system. Their expectation: that every person would have enough, and that excessive pride and luxury be diminished in a spirit of solidarity with one’s neighbor.

That’s not just politics and economics. That’s your Bible, your religion, and your relationship with God too.

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