09/23/18 – JV – Joseph, A Pre- “Me Too” Victim


September 23, 2018
Jazz Vespers
Homily: Genesis 39:1-23; Matt.5:11-12
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones


Once again, Joseph has his fortunes reversed in an instant. If you know the Joseph saga, Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him because he was their father’s favorite. One day he was wearing the beautiful coat his father had made for him and the next day the coat was torn from him and he was left in a pit to die by his older brothers. He was found by some Ishmaelites and sold as a slave to Potiphar. Thus, Joseph was abandoned to become a victim of human trafficking.

I want to interject here that this is not just an ancient problem; it is very much a terrible reality in the 21st century. Based on the latest records of reports and convictions, nearly 25 million people are believed to victims of human trafficking. One in four of these is children. More than 9,000 people were convicted of this crime in 2016. Much of the human trafficking in this country is young adults and children used for sexual slavery. Human trafficking is reported to be three times more profitable than the tech giant Apple, bringing in $150 billion a year. In Illinois, there were over 200 cases brought to the courts in 2016. The lives these victims endure make Joseph’s job in Potiphar’s house look like the garden of Eden.

Joseph had been treated unjustly, but, by the grace of God he wound up with a good position. Potiphar saw that Joseph had some kind of special mojo and put his whole household in Joseph’s hands.

Now, the Bible rarely gives us a description of a character’s physical appearance, but here, Joseph was described as “handsome and good-looking.” That helps us see how Joseph became a victim of sexual assault. Those that blame the victim excuse sexual assault on the victim’s appearance. People of this mentality will likewise claim a victim’s accusation is false due to their low opinion of the victim’s attractiveness.

Until recent years, if Joseph were female, his case might well have been dismissed in a court of law. A good-looking person assaulted by a person of wealth and power? It was consensual. He’s a gold-digger trying to profit by the accusation. He just wants attention.

But the author lets us in on the truth behind the lie. Joseph was innocent. Potiphar’s wife used her power and privilege to try to control Joseph. Since Potiphar left all the business of the household to him, Joseph could have easily consented with no consequences to his position. But, Joseph was a man who refused to compromise his integrity. An offense to another – in this case, Potiphar — was an offense to God. So, his fortune is reversed again. From Potiphar’s posh house, Joseph is thrown into jail.

Notice in Potiphar’s wife’s false accusation she refers, for the first time, to Joseph as “that Hebrew.” Thus, she employs the inclination to suspect outsiders of wrongdoing. To this day, people who do not look like the majority population are more likely to be accused of crimes. The United States has a long and sordid history of lynching black people. Black people are more likely to be suspected of wrongdoing. Every black person I have ever known has stories to tell of being followed by staff or store security when they were shopping. Blacks are more likely to be incarcerated and incarcerated longer than white people for the same crimes. Potiphar’s wife knew she was strengthening her case against Joseph by calling attention to his ethnicity.

With the “MeToo” movement, media celebrities, powerful political and religious figures have been accused of past sexual assaults occurring in times when women or children were routinely not believed and even punished for making the accusation. These are victims who have been left in their metaphorical prison, beaten down by the injustice they have suffered. Look what God did for Joseph was in prison. He gave him the job of helping the other prisoners and empowered him to do it. Throughout all of Joseph’s trials and tribulations, he always maintained his integrity. Integrity seems to be in short supply these days. Our world sure could use more of us to be like Joseph in that regard. It doesn’t help when we devote our energy to bemoaning what others lack rather than concentrating on how we can exercise our own integrity.

When one experiences injustice, it is hard not to feel discouraged, angry and hopeless. The reading assigned today stops before Joseph gets out of prison. We are left to contemplate what we can do when it seems like God is letting evil have free rein. Matthew’s words from the Beatitudes assures us that God is with us, even when injustice seems to have the upper hand.

Thankfully, we are assured of God’s presence in both the good times and bad; and, for God’s steadfast love. 


© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church
1420 W. Moss Avenue – Peoria Illinois 61606
WestminsterPeoria.org   |   309.673.8501