Now Joseph was handsome and good-looking. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph.
“The more things change, the more things stay the same,” said a wise observer of human nature.
Here’s a case in point: the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. The setting is ancient Egypt, where Potiphar, an important officer in Pharoah’s army, buys Joseph at a slave auction. Joseph is so skilled that Potiphar makes him overseer of all he has. Under Joseph’s direction, the estate flourishes; "the LORD blessed the Egyptians’ house for Joseph’s sake."(39: 5)
Apparently Potiphar’s wife is as pleased with the handsome Hebrew as her husband is, but for different reasons. Before long, she makes explicit advances to Joseph, who consistently rebuffs her. Frustrated and enraged, Mrs. Potiphar creates a scene and accuses Joseph of “insulting” her. She even has evidence: as Joseph fled her presence, she grabbed his “garment,” and shows it to her husband as part of her accusations.
Immediately, Potiphar sends Joseph to prison, where he remains for many years. Eventually, he is released and prospers, but that is for a later story. What we have here is the age-old problem of sexual harassment in the workplace.
According to author Naomi Rosenblatt, “it’s fascinating that the Bible chooses to highlight this issue by narrating an episode in which a male ‘employee’ is the victim of harassment.” This may, she opines, raise everyone’s consciousness about the plight of economically dependent women who are vulnerable to sexual coercion.
When Jesus wanted to make a point about human behavior, he told a good story. That’s what Genesis’ narrator is doing: abuse of power, by men or women, is wrong. Joseph is the patron saint of those who dare to blow the whistle on such abuse.
We thank you, God, for those who work for justice and equality for all people. Give us courage to speak up for ourselves, and for others who suffer abuse of all kinds. Amen.
Copyright © 2010 Margaret Jones.