This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 1 (most recently Sept 21, 2014).
Summary: This snippet from Joseph is rather interesting because we'd probably be more likely to focus on the powerful scenes of reconciliation at the end of the story. This particular chapter gives one large room to preach "social justice" sermons (injustice toward minorities) or "prosperity gospel" (work hard, endure and God will bless you and those around you). I am still wrestling with the idea of a God who causes us to prosper. I wonder if my generally liberal protestant background, which is so nervous about prosperity Gospel, undercuts a healthy understanding of God's blessings in our lives.
סלח ("saleakh", "thrive", 39:2, 3, 23) Last week in the narrative lectionary we focused on blessing. This week we come upon the word "thrive." What does it mean to thrive? Once again, we cannot deny the "worldly" aspect of God's presence in this world. Joseph (and his masters) gain health and wealth through his work.
Two wrinkles: Perhaps this idea of thriving is an Old Testament way of saying bear fruit. This verb also appears in
Psalm 1:3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.
Whenever their is fruit, there is service to the neighbor because fruit doesn't do the tree itself any good.
Second, life isn't so simple that those who believe in God, only good comes to them. In fact, the story of Joseph indicates the opposite -- that a life in God, even a thriving life, includes set backs!Psalm 37:7 Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices.
Proverbs 28:13 No one who conceals transgressions will prosper, but one who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.
עבד ("ayved", "servant, slave", 39:17, 19) This word of slave will take on huge importance in the book of Exodus. For now, I wanted to point out that Joseph is never called a "slave" until he is punished. Everyone benefits from him and then he is showed no mercy. I think this may be a more common feeling/experience of people outside the dominant social group. A moral minority is uplifted, promoted and praised...one might even think that one has achieved a modicum of acceptance. Then there is trouble; then there is name calling, no due process, imprisonment.