READING: Genesis 45:1-15
SERMON : "For Good or For Evil, Blessing or Curse?"
Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
The following homily focuses on the First Reading for the
Upcoming Sunday. The source of the traditional (Hasidic) tale
that forms the foundation of the sermon has been lost to me.
The emphasis in the text of the reading from Genesis is mine.
A READING FROM GENESIS 45:1-15
(NRSV) 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
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 honoured 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.
L This is the word of the Lord.
P Thanks be to God.
SERMON: "For Good or For Evil"
Let us Pray: Breathe on us, O God, that we may be filled with your
Spirit - and led by your living word - Jesus Christ our Lord. Bless
the word of my lips and the meditations of our hearts. We ask it in
his name. Amen.
I would like to tell you a traditional Hasidic story or tale today.
Listen to it.
Once there was an old man who lived in a tiny village. Although poor,
he was envied by all, for he owned a beautiful white horse. Even the
king coveted his treasure. A horse like this had never been seen
before such was its splendor, its majesty, its strength. People
offered fabulous prices for the steed, but the old man always refused.
"This horse is not a horse to me," he would tell them. "It is a
person. How could you sell a person? He is a friend, not a
possession. How could you sell a friend?"
The man was poor and the temptation was great. But he never sold the
horse. One morning he found that the horse was not in the stable. All
the village came to see him. "You old fool," they scoffed, "we told
you that someone would steal your horse. We warned you that you would
be robbed. You are so poor. How could you ever hope to protect such
a valuable animal? It would have been better to have sold him. You
could have gotten whatever price you wanted. No amount would have
been too high. Now the horse is gone, and you 've been cursed with
The old man responded, "Don't speak too quickly. Say only that the
horse is not in the stable. That is all we know; the rest is
judgment. If I've been cursed or not, how can you know? How can you
The people contested, "Don't make us out to be fools! We may not be
philosophers, but great philosophy is not needed. The simple fact
that your horse is gone is a curse."
The old man spoke again. "All I know is that the stable is empty, and
the horse is gone. The rest I don't know. Whether it be a curse or
a blessing, I can't say. All we can see is a fragment. Who can say
what will come next?"
The people of the village laughed. They thought that the man was
crazy. They had always thought he was a fool; if he wasn't, he would
have sold the horse and lived off the money. But instead, he was a
poor woodcutter, an old man still cutting firewood and dragging it out
of the forest and selling it. He lived hand to mouth in the misery of
poverty. Now he had proven that he was, indeed, a fool.
After fifteen days, the horse returned. He hadn't been stolen; he had
run away into the forest. Not only had he returned, he had brought a
dozen wild horses with him. Once again the village people gathered
around the woodcutter and spoke. "Old man, you were right and we were
wrong. What we thought was a curse was a blessing. Please forgive
The man responded, "Once again, you go too far. Say only that the
horse is back. State only that a dozen horses returned with him, but
don't judge. How do you know if this is a blessing or not? You see
only a fragment. Unless you know the whole story, how can you judge?
You read only one page of a book. Can you judge the whole book? You
read only one word of a phrase. Can you understand the entire phrase?
"Life is so vast, yet you judge all of life with one page or one word.
All you have is a fragment! Don't say that this is a blessing. No
one knows. I am content with what I know. I am not perturbed by what
"Maybe the old man is right," they said to one another. So they said
little. But down deep, they knew he was wrong. They knew it was a
blessing. Twelve wild horses had returned with one horse. With a
little bit of work, the animals could be broken and trained and sold
for much money.
Now the old man had a son, an only son. The young man began to break
the wild horses. After a few days, he fell from one of the horses and
broke both legs. Once again the villagers gathered around the old man
and cast their judgments. "You were right," they said. "You proved
you were right. The dozen horses were not a blessing. They were a
curse. Your only son has broken his legs, and now in your old age you
have no one to help you. Now you are poorer than ever."
The old man spoke again. "You people are obsessed with judging.
Don't go so far. Say only that my son broke his legs. Who knows if
it is a blessing or a curse? No one knows. We only have a fragment.
Life comes in fragments."
It so happened that a few weeks later the country engaged in war
against a neighboring country. All the young men of the village were
required to join the army. Only the son of the old man was excluded,
because he was injured.
Once again the people gathered around the old man, crying and
screaming because their sons had been taken. There was little chance
that they would return. The enemy was strong, and the war would be a
losing struggle. They would never see their sons again. "You were
right, old man," they wept. "God knows you were right. This proves
it. Your son's accident was a blessing. His legs may be broken, but
at least he is with you. Our sons are gone forever."
The old man spoke again. "It is impossible to talk with you. You
always draw conclusions. No one knows. Say only this: Your sons had
to go to war, and mine did not. No one knows if it is a blessing or
a curse. No one is wise enough to know. Only God knows."
How quickly we judge.
How are we to know whether at any given time we are experiencing one of
life's ups or downs? It may look one way when it really turns out to be
There is a bible story that speaks to us of this -- the story of Joseph.
Joseph's life had been a series of ups and downs. His brothers had sold him
into slavery. He received a pretty prestigious position for a slave, but
then he was wrongfully accused of sexual trespass and thrown into prison.
Joseph made some advantageous connections while in prison, but then it seemed
all for naught because he was soon forgotten when the one whom he helped was
restored to authority.
Some time later Pharaoh had a dream which could not be interpreted. Only
then was Joseph's God-given talent called to mind by his former acquaintance.
Joseph successfully interpreted the Pharaoh's dream and was placed in command
of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself.
Pharaoh's dream had warned that seven years of famine would follow seven
years of plenty. It was Joseph's responsibility to make sure that the bounty
from the first seven years was stored so that it could be adequately
distributed during the lean years. It was in the middle of the famine that
Joseph's brothers made their trek to Egypt to buy grain for the family.
Little did they realize that the brother they had sold into slavery so many
years ago would now be the one responsible for saving the nation of Israel
There are many things that could be said about how Joseph and his brothers
related to one another - but in the end one thing emerges very clearly that
Joseph comes to realize that those things that others had meant for ill -
turned out to be good.
A roller coaster of events - but each - in the hand of God - had a purpose.
Who is to know but God?
Our faith is that God can take the bad and turn it to the good.
It is also that those things which seem very good to us - can lead to evil.
Our faith is that we should not judge. Rather we should entrust all we have
and all that we are and all that we experience into the hands of God -
knowing - believing - that it will be OK.
We see only a fragment, says the old man in our story.
How can we judge.
And indeed he is right.
Paul writes this in his famous chapter concerning love:
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as
for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an
end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but
when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was
a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like
a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For
now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now
I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully
known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the
greatest of these is love.
Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is
Do not judge. Rather Love one another and love God,
blessed be his Holy Name, now and forever. Amen
copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2005
please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.