The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is one of freedom, equality and justice. Through non-violent protesting and love of one’s enemies came triumph over hate and segregation. Yesterday in the United States, a holiday was in observance of the life and witness of Dr. King. His famous speech I have a dream is memorable for its appeal to emancipation. In consideration of the civil rights movement of a generation ago, it got me thinking about another leader who had dreams as well…that man is Joseph.
In the book of Genesis, we have the beginnings of the world and people. Our origins are re-told to us that we would know who made us, where we came from, what went wrong and how it is made right again. The story narrows down to one man (and his wife) whom God chooses to redeem the world. The LORD makes unconditional promises to Abraham and Sarah. Through them God begins to undo the slavery we have to Sin. A good twelve chapters are spent on Abraham’s walk with God from 75 years old to 125 years old. Then the promise child Isaac is narrated for a couple chapters. Following Isaac we have a focus upon Jacob which in turn gives way to Joseph for the rest of the book.
Jacob has twelve sons and Joseph is his favourite. While it is not encouraged to be playing favourites as a parent, his reason does make sense. Jacob’s love of his life is Rachel. He doesn’t end up getting Rachel until he first marries Leah. When it comes to child-bearing, Leah first has children and Rachel is barren. When Rachel finally does have a son it comes after Leah and the two concubines Bilhah and Zilpah. When Rachel gives birth to a son, his name is Joseph. This is the firstborn son for Jacob from Rachel. While Jacob knows he must divide the inheritance in a just manner, he favours Joseph as evidenced in the coat with sleeves. While having this elaborate display of his father’s affection, Jacob rehearses two dreams. The brothers grow envious and angry all the more with him because of these dreams. In the time of Jacob here, God chiefly works through dreams to communicate His purposes. There are three sequences of two dreams from Genesis chapter 37 to 41. The first couplet is Joseph’s, then a cup-bearer and baker in prison and then Pharaoh himself has two dreams.
These dreams have connection with Joseph. Although Joseph does not interpret his own dreams he tells to his family, the way it’s told suggests the interpretation (see Genesis 37:5-11). Joseph will suffer for his telling of this dream at the hand of his brothers. He will be be thrown in a cistern and subsequently sold off to human traffickers and go down to Egypt (See Genesis 37:18-36). The theme of dreams continue while Joseph is falsely accused and imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. He ends up in prison where he meets two men who have suffered incarceration at the hands of the Pharaoh. One night they both have dreams and Joseph inquires what troubles them and assures them that God interprets dreams (Genesis 40:8). He translates the dream to mean one will be exalted and the one will be condemned. Not only is Joseph a dreamer but by God’s help, he can interpret dreams as well. The release of the cup-bearer out of prison to serve Pharaoh causes Joseph to call on the cup-bearer to remember him with Egypt’s ruler. Joseph though will be forgotten for two whole years.
Joseph is a dreamer. He has much in common with Martin Luther King Jr. He will dream of liberation for a people in bondage. He sees the way forward as one of non-violence, meaning not to fight with your fists but with your words. Communicating the dream and interpreting it for the current generation is not only plausible but necessary. Martin Luther King Jr. and Joseph both are men who suffer. These men can be trusted because they do not speak out of an aristocratic opulence that is warmly nestled from the burdens of the people they speak to. It is true that Joseph ascends to power after he interprets Pharaoh’s dream but that does not make him aloof from people. His roots and upbringing mark him in such a way he does not forget where he came from and where he is going. We need to listen to these dreamers and their voice today.
What is the dream for us to hear today? Let’s look for connections between Joseph and Martin Luther King Jr. There are three take-homes I would like for us to hear from men who announced, “I have a dream”:
- Suffering is redemptive: God uses our trials and tribulations as His vehicles to shape and refine our characters and bring about His purposes and plan for His people to us. Blessing the whole world is the outcome of having suffered for a little while for His Name’s sake.
- The destiny of Joseph and MLK Jr., was tied up in forgiveness and reconciliation. Love is the only way to the future coming in the here and now. We must live our witness out in a manner that is decidedly seeking to make peace with those who are not at peace. This peace is attained by enacting goodness and resisting evil and oppression.
- Joseph and MLK Jr., were both dreamers whose lives bear witness to Jesus Christ. Before Christ came, Joseph’s life showed the sufferings that must happen; including betrayal, arrest, ignominious in death yet raised to new life and revealed to his brothers and ascended on high. After Christ came, MLK Jr. made known the dream as a minister of the Gospel. His sufferings along with African-Americans in the Southern United States (and the rest of the U.S.) bore witness that through love’s redeeming power the oppressor can be defeated and give way to the transformation of life through the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“I have a dream” is God’s vision for all of creation. It is God’s future that He promises to give to the meek of the earth. All you who suffer bearing your cross, may your head be held high. the meaning of our suffering is taken up in the Son of God who suffered at great cost for us. Our future is tied up in love and forgiveness. There is no freedom without forgiving our enemies. May our lives be living witnesses that the dream is alive and well today, by the grace of a good and loving Lord. Amen.