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Lenten Devotional: Mar. 11

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Today’s texts: Genesis 46:1-7, 28-34; 1 Corinthians 9:1-15; Mark 6:30-46

Genesis 46:1-7, 28-34

The Joseph narratives mirror the lives of Asian American families. Chapter 46, in particular, resonates with my own family history in many ways. The scene opens with a practice that is familiar to many within Asian American communities, the reverencing of the ancestors. In this particular case, Israel or Jacob offers sacrifices to “the God of his father Isaac” (v. 1). It is only after Israel has made these sacrifices that God speaks in a vision. The Israelites understood their God to be intimately connected to the stories of those who went before them, to the plight of their mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers. It was the custom in my family growing up to have shrines to remember those who have passed. On New Year’s Day, as I was paying respects to my father and his parents, I was reminded of their stories and the ways that they had shaped me. I realized that my own struggles and victories were part of my family’s larger story—a story filled with evacuations, hardships, and unexpected good fortune.

Genesis 46 is particularly moving for me, because in it I see the complicated and beautiful reconnection of a family across generations. Jacob hears from his father Isaac’s God, who tells him that his long lost son, Joseph, will indeed close his eyes at his final resting place (v. 4). Joseph represents a younger generation, who is intimately familiar with the inner-workings of the Egyptian empire. In fact he manages most of the cultural negotiation for his extended clan (vv. 31–34). He is a cultural hybrid, navigating the complexity of two overlapping worlds. Moreover, included in the genealogy (vv. 8–27) are Asenath, his Egyptian wife (v.20), and Manasseh and Ephraim, their hapa-children. All of these descendents are counted in the final tally of Jacob’s family, which totals seventy—a perfect number. Lest we miss the generational theme, the scene reaches its climax when the aging patriarch and his long lost dreamer of a child fall on each others’ necks, weeping as they embrace “a good while” (v. 29).

* * *

Frank Yamada Frank M. Yamada, a Sansei (third-generation) Japanese American, is Director of the Center for Asian American Ministries and Professor of Hebrew Bible at McCormick Theological Seminary. He is author of Configurations of Rape in the Hebrew Bible: A Literary Analysis of Three Rape Narratives (Studies in Biblical Literature) (Peter Lang) and an editor and contributor for The Peoples’ Bible: a cross-cultural study bible (Augsburg Fortress Press). Dr. Yamada is a minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church, U. S. A.

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