When Joseph arrived at Shechem, a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?” He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers . . .” (Genesis 37:15-16).
The instructions were clear and simple. Joseph’s father was sending him on an errand and had told him exactly what to do. “Go and see if all is well with your brothers and bring word back to me” (Genesis 37:14).
The other sons were grazing the flocks near Shechem. Why Joseph was not working alongside them is a mystery. Why he went to them wearing his annoying I’m-the-special-one coat is an even greater mystery.
Ever dutiful, Joseph made his way to Shechem and searched for his father’s livestock and his father’s sons. He found neither. Noticing that Joseph seemed lost, a stranger was kind enough to offer some help.
“What are you looking for?” That question was more significant than the man knew.
“I’m looking for my brothers.” That answer was truer than Joseph knew.
The drama of the Joseph story will now be defined by that search. Not simply the quest for Jacob’s sons and their flocks, but the quest for a place and a people. Joseph will be rejected by his kin and find himself among a people he does not know.
As of this moment he is no longer home under Jacob’s protective and affectionate eye. And he is a long way from becoming Egypt’s Secretary of the Interior.
He no longer holds a position of favor, signaled by the coat and bestowed by a father. And he is not yet ready for the position of power, earned by his foresight and leadership, bestowed by a political ruler.
For now Joseph is wandering and lost, roaming a nondescript field, looking for his brothers. He is truly in the middle of nowhere, belonging to no one.
Most of us know what it’s like to wander those fields. We know we’re looking for something, and we may even have a clear idea of what it is, but we’re not sure where to find it. It’s not where we thought it would be when we set out.
We arrive at the intended job, we close the coveted deal, we move into the most desirable neighborhood, we get our kids into the highly selective school or we get our kids out of the house. And what we thought we’d find isn’t there.
Perhaps like Joseph we suddenly find ourselves in an in-between place. The economy is teaching us plenty about that these days. The life we once knew is no longer ours; the life we’re headed towards has yet to take shape. Where are we going, and what will we do once we get there? Shechem came up empty, so we set out for Dothan, never dreaming of Egypt (Genesis 37:17, 25).
For Joseph it will take some time, maybe a long time, before he discovers where he truly belongs. It ends up being a place he probably never intended to be. But all the while, at every moment and in all things, this much is clear: Joseph belongs to God. And when you’re wandering about, groping to find your way out of a no-man’s land, the same is true of you. You belong to God.
What fields have you wandered in lately? What are you looking for?
Gracious God, we wander about in our quest to belong. Seems we belong to so many things: We can belong to a club or a company. We belong to our families and our traditions. More than anything, we want to belong to you. Keep us close to you today, wherever this quest takes us. Amen.