“Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, 'Come to bed with me!'
But he refused. 'With me in charge,' he told her, 'my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?' And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.
One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12 She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house."
(Genesis 39: 6-12)
This is the second time Joseph’s garment was torn from him; it is a very symbolic act. Clothing is a symbol of the outward thoughts and feelings that both veil and reveal our deeper desires. Jesus’ clothing was torn from Him at the crucifixion (John 19:23), and earlier in our story Joseph was stripped of his colorful tunic, and now Potiphar’s wife uses Joseph’s garment as evidence against him. How often in arguments do we invalidate, judge or try to control the thoughts and feelings of our companions?
Like Potiphar’s wife we may be eager to experience love as pleasure rather than as service, so we take hold not of love itself but of the trappings of love, the appearance of love, while true love entirely eludes our grasp. Like Potiphar’s wife, we feel affronted. We go from desire to rage, from confidently enjoying our own pleasure, to being the plaintive victim. When people show signs of love, we turn those very signs against them. “You say you love me, so you should make me happy. If you loved me, you would give me what I want.” When love does not go the way we want it to, we are often tempted to use people’s own words against them. “But you said...” is a common piece of our arguments.
False accusations led to Joseph’s imprisonment, and we may find that lies people tell about us put us in an emotional prison. Sometimes these lies are from others, but far more often they come from within us. It’s as if there is part of us that just wants to be honest and faithful and do the best we can, while another part of us is saying, “You are worthless! You are hopeless! You are not compassionate, wise or helpful. You’re just pretending.” As we reach more advanced spiritual states and we may realize that such voices with which we so frequently accuse ourselves are not truly our own, but are borrowed from chance criticisms and comments of past friends and enemies, and kept alive by the influence of demons from hell who always stand ready to muddy our minds with shame, resentment and contempt.
We cannot always defend ourselves against such lies, so we struggle with temptation, doubt and despair. Yet if we act with integrity like Joseph, the time will come when trials will be past and we become the kind of person the Lord sees we can be. Just as Joseph was given new clothes when he got out of prison, the time will come when we will say, “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness” (Psalm 30:11).
The Rev. John Odhner is an Assistant to the Pastor at the Bryn Athyn Church. For more information, visit www.brynathynchurch.org.