At first sight it may seem odd that the lectionary brings together today the two great stories of the selling of Joseph into slavery and of Jesus walking on the water and saving Peter. They are both rich stories, full of connection to our own lives of faith, yet what unites them?
Well let's notice first the parallels between the story of Joseph and the story of Jesus - parallels that would have been immediately obvious to Matthew's readers, which we tend to forget. In both their stories we find the motif of the hero who is envied, betrayed, left for dead and yet rises again. Joseph is betrayed and sold by his brothers for twenty pieces of silver. Judas who was a shrewd keeper of the purse obviously allowed for inflation when he betrayed Jesus for thirty. Both stories are telling us that spiritual leaders who claim a direct line to God and speak truth to power, tend to find themselves very unpopular. Indeed there is that in human nature which seeks to kill the divine when it is seen in humanity. We recognise the truth of this as we look back over history to the great martyrs of our faith, all of whom have suffered and died for their refusal to accept the ways of the world. So the story of Joseph is if you like an archetypal story, a story that reveals patterns of human behaviour that are true for all times and places. And his story foreshadows the story of Jesus, just as the stories of later martyrs recapitulate that same story, tell it over again. It is a story of dying and rising. A story whose pattern is recognised and known deep within every human being, and found in its simplest form in our own bodies' rhythms of inhalation and exhalation. This is why the story has power for us, because it is our story, our truth that gives shape to our living...
In the story of Jesus as in all our stories there are many deaths and resurrections before the end. And the story of Peter is another example of this pattern of dying and rising. Peter thinks he can do it all, that all he has to do is step out of the boat. Yet just like Joseph, he quickly finds that pride comes before a fall, and with the first big gust of wind he is floundering in the water and calling out to his Lord to save him. Which of course Jesus gladly does, asking him only 'where is your faith?'. And this question is what truly unites these two stories. For it is faith that brings Joseph through his trials. It is faith that enables Jesus and all the martyrs since to face death and come to resurrection. It is faith that we need every day of our earthly pilgrimage, as we too pass through death to resurrection, not just in the ultimate sense, but every day as we seek to set aside our little selves and come to our True Self in God. For what are the temptations of the human ego which constantly trip us up, knock us sideways send us into pits of despair, and must ultimately be overcome for life and transformation to occur? They are all there in these two stories of Joseph and Peter:
Pride, as seen in Joseph who has to be taken down a peg or two to be useful to God or anyone else; and Peter who thinks he can and finds he can't.
Anger, as seen in Joseph's brothers, whose jealousy leads them to commit unspeakable crimes of violence and betrayal - and if we want a modern example of that we need only to look at conflicts in the Middle East at this present time.
Fear, as we see in actions of Reuben, whose good intentions of doing something later are insufficient to save his brother; fear as in Peter, who takes his eyes of Jesus when the wind gets gusty and the waves start to rise.
What is the only answer to all these - for all of us are going to trip over at least one of these? The only answer is faith. This is quite different from the embattled lines of religion, where ego is often rampant. Faith is about Trust:
Trust that the one who loves us, does in truth love us, and will continue to rescue us in spite of all.
Trust can enable the prideful person to let go of their need for control.
Trust can enable the angry person to put down their weapons.
Trust can enable the fearful person to look up and step forward into the unknown.
How can we foster trust? We need to practice. We need to practice in our daily lives and interactions. When we feel our hackles rise in fear or anger or protection of our vanity, we need to practise stopping, taking a breath and asking the Spirit to show us what is really at stake and what we need to let go of. We need to practice this in our life of prayer. I once had a person talk to me about how difficult they were finding it to pray. And when I asked them how they were trying to pray they told me that their problem was that they spent all their prayer time telling God about everything that was happening in their lives and in the world, and what God needed to do about it and at the end of their prayer time they were exhausted from the sheer effort of trying to make sure they did not forget anything. Now that is a bit of an extreme case, but I am sure we will all have been there. In our fear that we might miss someone and something terrible will happen,we pray as if it all depends on us (!); or in our anger that the world is as it is and surely God should be able to do something about it we end up shouting at God; or in our pride that we know how things ought to be so surely God will take our advice. We presume in our prayer to tell God what God already knows and what to do about it.
Now of course, God always hears our prayers with love and praying any way is better than not praying at all. But prayer is a wonderful safe place in which to practise faith and trust. If for even five minutes a day we can just sit down and open ourselves to God, listening rather than talking, letting rest in God's keeping the things we know we cannot fix, then I truly believe that even when the wind is howling we will find that at times we can walk on the water. So this week let's remember that the story of Joseph, the story of Jesus and the story of Peter are all also our story, and that the lessons they teach can be applied in our own lives, and let us try and practise our faith in little encounters and in the quietness of a prayer where God holds all our fears and angers and prides and helps us to let them go. Amen