First Mennonite Church
August 16, 2015
Joseph A Portrait of Forgiveness
Text: Genesis 50:15-21
If we were to take a moment and look closer and deeper at ourselves, we would realize that who we are as an individual has a lot to do with how we were raised as children. Every child, like a crystal glass that has been handled for some time, carry the marks of its handlers. Some are only smudged and you can see it by the healthy social skills they have or by their wholesome emotional lives they have. There are some children who are like chipped and cracked glasses. Although they show signs of past pains and abuses, they have managed to move ahead, despite the emotional or even physical scars. But there are some children who are like crushed glasses, unfortunately. Such people live with shattered lives. They seem unable to overcome the emotional, psychological damage they had suffered when young. These are people who try hard to put their lives together. They go to therapists, psychologist, religious leader and anyone who might offer to help them. Many people who are struggling with substance abuse or suffering from depression are people who when young were verbally or emotionally abused by their parents or people who had authority over them.
The other day I was listening the story of a young woman. She was telling her interviewer how often her father humiliated her when she was young. “Nothing I did was good enough for dad,” she said. “I made it my daily goal to please my father, but I was never able to do something that satisfied his expectation,” she admitted. “After so much disapproval by my father, I gave up. I developed an acute eating disorder to the point that food was actually killing me,” she said. “It was until I met a guy who said he loved me that I began to take care of myself. So I worked hard to lose weight. But after I managed to lose some weight, he told me that he did not want to stay with me anymore. I plunged down again in depression and began eating carelessly again.”
Can we blame the child or person for how the way he or she was “handled”? Again, using the comparison of a handled crystal glass, we can say Joseph had many handlers along his formative years. Most likely he was spoiled by his mother, especially because he was sort of a “miracle child” to Rachel and Jacob. Joseph was also favored by his father. The Bible tells us that Jacob was “in old age” (Gen. 37:3) when Joseph was born. Jacob loved Joseph more that he did his other children both because Joseph was born to him in his old age and because he was a child with favorite wife. This preference for Joseph over his other brothers and sister put him constantly in the hot spot. And when Joseph was mid-teens the Bible tells us that not only was his father favoritism that brought him trouble but Joseph’s mouth also. He accused his older brothers of their mischief. He could not keep his mouth shut and therefore when he had dreams he also relayed them to his family and he was despised even more.
But Joseph’s life changed for good the day his father Jacob sent him to take provision to his older brothers who were out in the field. All the envy, contempt, and bitterness his brothers had been holding against Joseph came out like a flashflood that day. Upon seeing Joseph appear on their horizon, the older brothers decided to take their revenge. “Let us kill him and see what will happen with his dreams”, the brothers said. But Rueben intervened, “Let us not lay hand on the boy, let us not shed blood. Remember he is one of us; He is our brother” (37: 21-22). Rueben wanted his younger brother to return to his father and thus suggested that Joseph be thrown into a dry cistern instead. Yet, when Rueben was away, the other brothers brought him out of the cistern and sold him to passing by merchants who in turn sold Joseph to Potiphar, the Egyptian Pharaoh’s administrator.
While at Potiphar’s house, Joseph was accused of attempted rape and was thrown in jail. After many years in jail, because of his mouth, per se, he was released after he interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams. As reward for interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph was appointed Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources, as we might call his title today.
Let us paus here and take a look at the beauty of the literary art of the biblical writers. You remember that Jacob lied to his father Isaac to cheat him from the blessing Isaac wanted to give Esau. Guess what? Jacob was lied too, by his children regarding his beloved son Joseph. And in both cases the item used to do the lying was a goat. Jacob used the skin of a goat to cheat his father. Jacob was cheated by his children after they soaked Joseph’s coat in goat’s blood to look like if Joseph was mauled to death. Jacob lived for almost twenty-five (25) years believing that his son Joseph had been killed by a wild beast. All this time Jacob was living under the shadow of his sons’ lie. But there is still more to the hardship of Jacob: the famine came over the whole land including Canaan where he was living. But upon knowing that there was lots of food in Egypt, Jacob sent out some of his sons to buy food there. In Egypt, at the court of Pharaoh’s palace, Joseph meets his brothers again.
The account we read in today’s passage happened about some 15 years after Jacob was reunited with Joseph in Egypt.
Although there is no record that Jacob had ever instructed his sons to make this request to Joseph after his death, it is clear that Joseph doesn’t hesitate to receive it as a petition from his father. He never questioned the veracity of their request. Joseph witnessed the contriteness of their heart since the first day they appeared before him for food. Joseph tried them. “You are spies; you have come to see how defenseless the land is”, he accused them. They in turn confessed who they were and all about their family. “We, your servants, are twelve and our father is still alive. Our younger brother is at home with our father, but the youngest is no more with us”. And as Joseph detained one of them as surety these brothers all started to express their long and painful guilt of having sold their younger brother. And so, without knowing that Joseph was understanding everything word they were saying, the text tells us in Genesis 42:21-22: Then they started talking among themselves. “Now we’re paying for what we did to our brother—we saw how terrified he was when he was begging us for mercy. We wouldn’t listen to him and now we’re the ones in trouble.” Reuben broke in. “Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t hurt the boy’? But no, you wouldn’t listen. And now we’re paying for his murder.”
Joseph was convinced of their authentic repentance when he heard them acknowledge their wrongful deeds towards him. It is here that I would like for us to see three points in this portrait of reconciliation.
- These men did not only acknowledged among themselves of having wronged their younger brother, but they openly confessed it to Joseph in person.
‘ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.”
After almost forty years of having wronged their younger brother, they confessed and asked for forgiveness. Reconciliation can only come when there is confession of the wrong committed and when forgiveness is offered. Confession and forgiveness most take place in order for there to be true reconciliation. It does not matter how long the issues of discord had happened. The offence committed could be one hour ago, or many years ago. Our wrongs cannot be justified nor erased no matter how long a time the wrong had been committed. We either deal with it or it stays there for eternity.
In the case between Joseph and his brothers, it was clear that there was repentance and forgiveness. These brothers not only showed remorse for their sins by weeping, they even offered themselves as slaves to Joseph. They wanted to prove beyond any doubt that they were indeed sorry for their actions, even when they did it so long ago.
- Joseph never took advantage over his brothers because he was in a position of power nor because he was the victim. He never said, “Aha, I told you I will be you master and you will bow before me as I told you of my dreams.” He never saw his new position as master of the land as something to take advantage of against his brothers. He instead said, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? He surely could have played God if he wanted to. He could have proven them how unjust they had been towards him and how righteous he was. He could have rightfully played the game of “I am holier than thou”, but he did not. Joseph discerned God presence in the midst of their human mistakes and confessed that God had taken their messiness and turned it into something good.
“Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today”. This echoes the words of Paul who said: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
My brothers and sisters, this is the most difficult part when it comes to reconciliation. The pain of being offended many times can prevents us from seeing beyond ourselves even when the one who wronged us is also hurting. Reconciliation can only happen when we open ourselves to see that the offender is also hurting. And this is what Joseph did. He witnessed how terribly sorry his brothers were of what they had done to their younger brother. He noticed the pain and burden of the guilt they still carried with them.
I believe this was Paul’s vision of the way Jesus forgave us when he instructs the church of the Colossians: Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you (3:13). Jesus endured the pain and death on the cross because He saw our pain. He saw our need of healing and because of that he disregarded the cross.
- Joseph offered to serve. Joseph said to his brothers, “So have no fear; I myself will provide for
you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them. 50:21. Joseph was not afraid to live with his brothers. (This is different than what happened between Esau and Jacob.) Many times we hear people say, “Fences make good neighbors.” Implicit in this attitude, is that it would be better if we stay to ourselves and do not mess with each other. Joseph, instead erecting a fence between him and his brothers, he offered to care and serve his brothers and their families. This is also a true sign of reconciliation. Joseph was not afraid to being hurt again. He did not seek to avoid contact with his brothers. He did not doubt of his brothers repentance. In fact, he urged them not to fear, but spoke kindly to them assuring them his free and genuine forgiveness.
Where there is too much fear, there is little love.
Where there is some love there is some fear.
Where there is wholesome love, there is no fear.
As for us, my dear brothers and sisters, how long have you been patiently waiting for the one who offended you to come and make peace with you?
Or, since when do you have a pending debt that you need to correct and ask for forgiveness?
Joseph’s action of forgiving his brothers closed the family cycle of conflict. Reconciliation is the key to preventing conflicts from spiraling out of control. So listen to your heart. Listen to the Spirit of God who might be reminding you of a long ago unresolved conflict.
May the Lord empower us through his Spirit to seek healing and restoration. Amen!