I’m sure your inbox and newsfeed are already filled with endless entries of making and keeping new year’s resolutions.
According to the Lunar Calendar, New Year’s is isn’t actually until January 31st. So you’re safe if you haven’t made any resolutions yet. One of the New Years traditions in Korean families is called a sebeh – in which children gather alongside the head of the family. Each family is called to bow – with hands over face and to the ground. This tradition of bowing is not to be confused with worship. This act of bowing is a sign of deep reverence and respect for those that have cared for you. Joseph’s brothers had bowed before Joseph as a sign of deep reverence and respect when pleading for grain.
“Now Joseph was governor over the land. He was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces on the ground” (Genesis 42:6, ESV). In this scene however, Joseph’s brothers are unaware they that they are bowing down to their brother Joseph – sold into slavery and thought to be dead. Bowing is an act that assumes great vulnerability. One must trust that the other person will still be there while avoiding eye contact to bow.
What does the act of bowing look like for the believer in Christ living in America? This act of bowing requires a deep sense of self-confidence and trust in the other. It is through Christ that we as believers are truly able to stand in full confidence of who we are. Having the unique position of living in Chicago, we are surrounded with daily cultural crossings. How might we as believers in Christ, fully confident in our identities bow in vulnerability to trust the other? Joseph is in a position of influence and power and could very well choose to take advantage of the act of vulnerability by his brothers. (For it was his dreams coming to fruition). Instead of a “told you so” moment, Joseph shows compassion. Joseph sees his youngest brother for the first time and is overwhelmed with emotion.
“When Joseph came home, [the brothers] brought into the house to [Joseph] the present that they had with them and bowed down to him to the ground…They said, ‘Your servant our father is well; he is still alive.’ And they bowed their head and prostrated themselves. And [Joseph] lifted up his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son…Then Joseph hurried out, for his compassion grew warm for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there.” (Genesis 43:26-30, ESV)
The reader may easily overlook the scene of the brothers bowing laying prostrate in front of their younger brother Joseph. Again, Joseph as the younger brother could easily take advantage of this reversal in power dynamics. Upon seeing his brother Benjamin for the first time, he is filled with compassion.
Who in our lives must we be filled with compassion? Who is bowing before us, prostrate? As believers, we have a very powerful place of influence in which we can choose to extend the affirmations of Christ’s redemptive work in our lives. So for this New Year, I challenge you to bow to those that have cared for you, and may they have compassion on you. May you show compassion to the ones who bow in trust and vulnerability to you and your family.
Happy New Year!
Mary Nikoo is a second generation Korean-Iranian-American. She is a preacher and teacher who is passionate about reconciliation and celebration of culturally diverse communities. During the week Mary keeps busy empowering and educating young leaders who happen to be in third grade. She currently has a Master of Divinity with a focus in Cross-Cultural Ministry from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Upon moving to Chicago, Mary has been welcomed by Grace and Peace Community, an urban congregation that intentionally embraces and actively reaches out to the northwest side of Chicago in all of its ethnic diversity.