Joseph the Interpreter of Dreams – Held on Sunday, February 16, 2014

Outline of Post on the Scripture Session held on 02/16/14

  1. Introductory Remarks
  2. Background to today’s Reading
  3. Reading Gen. 40: 01 – 23
  4. Discussion

Introductory Remarks

I handed out a blurb detailing a projected Lenten Program. It will be based on the book, Jesus of Nazareth What He Wanted, Who He Was by Gerhard Lohfink who was professor of New Testament exegesis at the University of Tubingen; – more on Tubingen –  In the words of Daniel J. Harrington, SJ “Lohfink’s Jesus of Nazareth is the best Jesus book I know.  It is solidly based on sound biblical scholarship, full of fresh theological insights, respectful of the Gospels and their portraits of Jesus, and beautifully expressed.  It is especially effective in highlighting the centrality of God’s reign and Israel as God’s people in Jesus’ life and work.”

I had to select from the 21 chapters that make up the book what I could cover on the Thursdays in Lent beginning on March 13 and ending on five weeks later on April 10.  I chose following five topics:

1. The Proclamation of the  Reign of God / the Gathering of Israel: March 13

Jesus was born Jewish, grew up in a Jewish family, read the Jewish scripture, and experienced Judaic life as it was lived in the 1st century of our era.  The Jews of that time were hoping for the restoration promised them by the prophets after their return from exile.  They chaffed under Roman rule and Greek culture.  Jesus left Nazareth to follow John the Baptist, left John to proclaim primarily to peasants in the villages of Galilee that this hope and longing was happening in his message of the Kingdom of God, now in their midst.  His aim was to restore Israel, gather them around him, in the light of YHWH’s promise of old.

2. Jesus’ Parables: March 20

He spoke to them in parables, concrete stories about Israel’s identity that were charged with the promise of fulfillment yet a fulfillment in disturbingly different way.  It was this both/and that made Him and His message attractive and repulsive; unsettling.

3. Jesus and the World of Signs / Miracles: March 27

Jesus’s message of the coming Kingdom of God was expressed not only in words but in might deeds; deeds that resonated with the history  of the Jewish people.  As they had been fed with manna in the desert so Jesus fed them with the loaves and fishes.  As they were formed out of the twelve tribes of Israel so Jesus gathered from his disciples, The Twelve as a symbolic message of the restored and renewed Israel.  As it was said of old, he would say to them, “I have come not to destroy but to fulfill.”  The villagers brought their sick, possessed for him to heal them and Jesus did.

4. Decision in Jerusalem / Dying for Israel: April 3

His entrance on the back of a donkey into Jerusalem during the Passover feast with a hundred thousand or more gathering and his clearing the Temple were the final straws.  For those for whom the Temple was the very center of the presence of their God; for the Roman ruler who, given the times and place, could not tolerate such symbolic acts; the answer was simple he must be done away with.  In the midst of this potential maelstrom, Jesus tells his intimate followers, “This is my body broken for you.  This is my blood poured out for you.”

5. The Easter Event / Jesus’ Sovereign Claim: April 10

His followers fled in fear; not only the fear of Jesus being crucified but the fear of experiencing the empty tomb.  The empty tomb, however, was not the end of the story.  Like Paul after them, they were to experience the Risen Lord.  Their lives were transformed.  From profound fear they returned to Jerusalem, and the rest of the Mediterranean region in courage; many of whom were to die for the sake of this Jesus.  What then did Jesus claim?  The answer to that question is how Lohfink ends his book.

There is no expectation that the participants would read the book [after the sessions some may want to though].  Lent is a time of preparation, a time of deepening of our faith in Christ Jesus.  With such emphasis on our responsibility to evangelize, learning what contemporary theologians have come to know about who Jesus is and what He wanted would lie at the root of any effort to evangelize and make our efforts resonate with many who may feel a profound need to find direction in their lives.

To register please contact Roberta at 330-452-9539 or  You can also sign-up at under the Adult Education page.

As I highlighted the content of these five evenings, Ken mentioned that he had read an article in the Canton Repository on the results of a survey the Vatican had taken on key issues in the church.  He was a bit amazed at how different the United States Catholics are on many of the issues than Catholics throughout the rest of the world.  His remarks reminded me of a foundational question I had asked some years ago.  Are we Christians who happen to be born in the United States?  Or are we citizens of the United States who happen to be Christians?  Perhaps without fully realizing it, the survey revealed that many American Catholics are more formed by the culture of the United States than by the message of Christ.

This brought to Kai’s mind what he has observed as a German immigrant of Catholics in the States.  He has experience a lack of understanding of even the most basic of Catholic teachings and practices.  He mentioned as one example, that although Catholics can certainly follow the order of the Mass, they really are ill prepared to explain to others why the Mass has the order that it has.  He asked, for example, why is it that the Kyrie precedes the Scripture Readings.  Is there a reason for that and, if so, what is it?

Well more than a half hour had passed and it was time to turn to our passage.

Background to today’s Reading: Gen. 40: 01 – 23.

Looking back to Brueggemann’s schema I pointed out the unity of the dream theme in chapters 39 through 41.  Chapters 39 and 40 find their culmination in chapter 41.  Like 39, chapter 40 is focused on Joseph and dreams.

The chapter carries two distinct and somewhat jarring themes.  First we read in v. 8 “We have had dreams, but there is no one to interpret them.”  Joseph said to them, “Do interpretations not come from God? Please tell me the dreams.”  The narrator in this single verse communicates so much to his audience; much of which without help we would tend to miss.

  1. The dreams as we will come to know are about the future of the cupbearer and the baker.  But there is no one in the empire who has the requisite knowledge to interpret the dream, to know the future.  But what does the word “empire” communicate to the narrator’s audience and thus to us?  The “empire,” of course, is Egypt.  The audience, however, has long since left Egypt, the country, behind them; it is their distant past.  Just as Egypt, however, can speak to the narrator’s audience in perhaps 1000 BCE so too it can speak to us.  The “Empire” stands for, is a symbol of, all of the powers that dominate our lives, that enslave us, to which we are addicted, mistaken.  All of this creates a world of darkness.
  2. So Joseph responds to let us know that only YHWH has such knowledge that brings light into our lives.
  3. Without a second thought though our narrator then lets us hear Joseph say, “Please tell me the dreams.”  Who then is Joseph?  He is first of all Israel.  They are to speak for YHWH, bring his light to the nations.

This seems good as far as it goes but, of course, it is only part of the story.  We read a counter theme in v. 14 – 15 “Only think of me when all is well with you, and please do me the great favor of mentioning me to Pharaoh, to get me out of this place.  The truth is that I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and I have not done anything here that they should have put me into a dungeon.”

  1. Here is Joseph YHWH’s interpreter of dreams imprisoned asking not YHWH but the Egyptian to favor him [show him kindness, hesed].  Our narrator lets us know that we must live at one and the same time in the world of the powers to be and the world as YHWH intends it to be.
  2. Joseph himself knows that he is innocent and makes that claim.  But to no avail  for we read in the last verse

V. 23 “Yet the chief cupbearer did not think of Joseph; he forgot him.”

  1. We learn later that Joseph will remain in prison for another two years.  Is it that the chief cupbearer has forgotten Joseph or has YHWH also forgotten him?  What would the audience of the narrator think?  What do we think?
  2. It is easy enough to think that God doesn’t forget us until such time as we have found ourselves imprisoned for a very long time and then we too think that God has forgotten us.  Ask Annette.
  3. So the narrator wants to let us know who YHWH is, how YHWH acts, etc.

Thus we read from faith to faith for the sake of faith.

There remains one other element in the story that we struggled with.  There is a phrase that is repeated three times, vv. 13, 19, 20 “Lift up your head.”  For one it means life and for the other it means death.  Like so many words, the narrator means more than one thing.  Life and death are symbols.  Yes they mean life and death but they also mean living in light which is life and living in darkness which is death.  And only YHWH has the knowledge that brings us light, the light that is life without which we live in darkness, death.  So Christ tells us, “I am light of the world.”  Jesus who is the Word of God.

Reading: Gen. 40: 01 – 23


Four pages are enough for now.

You are invited to respond to these or other questions that might arise within you as you read this passage.  Your comments, observations, questions are welcomed.  See “comment” link below

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