The saga of Joseph son of Jacob/Israel (Genesis 37-46) appears in the scripture readings for Lent. It is a 'prequel' setting the scene for the story of Moses and the Exodus, which features so prominently at Passover and in the celebration of Easter. It accounts for how the children of Israel came to be living in Egypt in the first place, but the story does more than this.
It is a story about the hidden hand of divine providence reversing misfortune, of all things working together for good, not because those whom the story portrays are pious or morally upright, but despite themselves. Their responses to circumstances drive the story along and ensure survival for themselves and their descendants in a foreign land.
Joseph is first portrayed as naive, and full of a youthful sense of his own self-importance, which leads to his elder brothers hating him and wanting to kill him. Reuben, one of the brothers has a bad conscience about this and persuades them to abandon him in a way that will lead to his eventual death without leaving them with blood on their hands. This he intends as a way to rescue Joseph later, but the plan misfires. Joseph is sold into slavery.
After further set-backs, Joseph rises to power and is able to rescue his family from death by famine. They settle in Egypt, dependent upon Joseph's forgiveness and good-will. After the death of Joseph, things change, dependency upon good-will mutates into enslavement, as they are strangers in a strange land. God is revealed in the story as the author of their bid for freedom. They are unable to liberate themselves. Some don't see the need for freedom and must be persuaded to escape and make the journey that ensues. But God chooses them and their story to make his name and his nature known, despite themselves.
Thereafter, the Israelites are exhorted to remember these stories as the foundation of their existence and to be thankful to God as provider and rescuer of his children in spite of their shortcomings and wayward tendencies. Equally as important as prayer of penitence and self-surrender is prayer that remembers and thanks God for everything in life, recognising everything is a gift and not a right, or something deserved.
Cultivating the art of remembering to appreciate and not take anything for granted is essential lifelong learning. We start learning it in childhood. It comes before we begin to pray, it is central to the nature of prayer, and flows out from prayer back into our lives.
'Give thanks to the Lord for he is gracious; for his mercy endures forever.' (1 Chron 16:34, Psalm 106:1, Psalm 107:1, Psalm 118:1)
'I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.' (Psalm 34:1)
In a Psalm that recalls God's saving works this is the refrain. It is addressed to us. How do we respond?
'Oh that they would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!' (Psalm 107:8, 15, 21, 31)