Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Politics of Integrity

Beginning the Story

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I am sure you have heard that old saying – it has been around since Bernard of Clairvoux first said something like that back in 1155…

It is a clever way of saying just because we intended something to go one way does not mean that we are not going to mess it up and do the wrong thing.

I could probably come up with some example in a book, or a movie, or a television show… but I think if I gave you a second you could come up with one from your own life… Let me ask it this way.
Have you ever tried to take the easy way, or do something you thought was for the right reasons, only to have it blow up in your face?

How about those “little white lies” we tell?

I have some ADD tendencies. I have some anxiety. I have a really poor memory. So I pretend I am a really great multitasker because I cannot really focus well – hey look – a squirrel…. What was I saying, Oh yes, I am not a great multitasker – so the little white lies are kind of hard for me. I tend to be really truthful because in five minutes I may not remember the lie I told to make things better.
Or how about this as an example – when asked if I like broccoli by my in-laws I say yes to be polite. Now at every single meal, they make my favourite… broccoli. (this is not a true story, by the way, I like broccoli and my in-laws do not eat vegetables)

This is a silly example – but it is a real problem. When we do the wrong thing for the right reasons – it is still the wrong thing.

A Reading: Genesis 39:1-23

Now Joseph was taken down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man; he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him; he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge; and, with him there, he had no concern for anything but the food that he ate.

Now Joseph was handsome and good-looking. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, with me here, my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my hand. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” And although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not consent to lie beside her or to be with her. One day, however, when he went into the house to do his work, and while no one else was in the house, she caught hold of his garment, saying, “Lie with me!” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled outside, she called out to the members of her household and said to them, “See, my husband has brought among us a Hebrew to insult us! He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice; and when he heard me raise my voice and cry out, he left his garment beside me, and fled outside.” Then she kept his garment by her until his master came home, and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to insult me; but as soon as I raised my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me, and fled outside.”

When his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, saying, “This is the way your servant treated me,” he became enraged. And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; he remained there in prison. But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love; he gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. The chief jailer committed to Joseph’s care all the prisoners who were in the prison, and whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The chief jailer paid no heed to anything that was in Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper.

The Story Unfolds

This story would be laughable as a soap opera. In a nutshell here is the plot - Joseph is purchased by Potiphar, “a captain of the guard,” from the Ishmaelites, then is installed as an overseer in Potiphar’s house. The story emphatically repeats that God is active in Joseph’s life, making him successful in all his undertakings (Genesis 39:2, 3, 5, 21, 23). Potiphar, noticing his success, wants it to rub off on him and his household and so raises Joseph into a position of power within his household. Potiphar’s wife is also attracted to the success that emanates from Joseph. She uses her position to try to compel him to do her will, and when rejected, has Joseph put in prison.
It even has the humour of a modern television story – the wife grabs his robe and Joseph has to fight to keep away from her to the point that she rips it off of him as he runs out into the street naked…
Like I said, it would make a laughable soap opera – if it weren't for the fact that stories like this are a part of our daily news. It seems there is not a catholic priest or a politician alive who is not caught out on some sexual scandal. Almost every leader of a successful church is in trouble for everything from tax fraud to abuse.
There are still people out there who are different than this. There are people who have integrity. And perhaps this is why the story of Joseph made it into the bible. It is a story filled with the worst of human emotions, jealousy, lust, anger, murder, revenge… remember, this is the same guy whose brothers tried to kill him because he was father’s favourite, but instead threw him in a pit to die. (naked again, oddly)
And Joseph does some questionable things as he is making his way through the slavery route. For example, he keeps getting his wife to say she is his sister – so no one will use one against the other I suppose. And then when the owner invariably falls in love with her – and tries to sleep with her. Proverbial hell breaks loose.
So it is not that Joseph is perfect. He is not. And the rough life he has lived so far does not excuse his actions – he is often doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.
But there is a reason he continues to survive and thrive in this soap opera. And that reason is simple. Integrity.
A key difference between Joseph’s story and politics today is Joseph’s integrity. Most of the politicians who fall from power today do so because of their own failings, their own capitulation to corruption, greed, and lust. Joseph, on the other hand, falls from power because he dares to say “No” to corrupting power. He could have had a sweet deal, sleeping with Potiphar’s wife, running his house -- Potiphar didn’t need to know. But he decides to take the difficult path -- and it leads him to prison.

Ideas to Take With Us

These stories from Genesis are ancient. They are about people long dead living in a way we could never imagine, in a place, none of us have probably ever seen.
But there is a reason that for thousands of years they have been re-told – they are the fairie tales and fables of the Bible that are trying to teach us the basic idea of goodness.
Be honorable. Be upright. Be honest.
That is what it is to be a good person. And we tell these stories over and over so that we do not forget, and that we can pass them down to people like Brynlee.                                                                                                               
Despite the fact that the world DOES often seem like a soap opera gone wrong – there is still a right and wrong and there are still honourable people. This is our tradition and who we are.
We need to embrace it.

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