But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 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. -Genesis 50:19-20
Joseph had what we might call a rough childhood. Although as a child he was his father's favorite, his brothers weren't happy about that. After their dad gave Joseph a special multicolored jacket, they decided it was time to get rid of him. They trapped him in a pit and were about to kill him, until one of the brothers convinced them that would be going too far. Instead of killing him, they just sold him to a group of passing slave traders. They then put animal's blood on Joseph's beautiful coat and took it home to show it to their dad, telling him Joseph had been eaten by a wild animal.
Meanwhile, Joseph was became a slave in Egypt. In addition to imprisonment and hard labor, there were many other challenges for him there, including being falsely accused of a capital crime. But Joseph made it through with God's help, and actually ended up being the head slave of all the land - the pharaoh's right hand man!
But his brothers knew nothing of this turn of fortune. They probably thought Joseph was long gone many years later when, during a severe famine, they came to Egypt to beg for some food. They did not recognize the powerful government official as their long lost brother. And boy, oh boy, was this Joseph's opportunity for revenge! When he finally revealed his identity to the hungry brothers, they realized the situation they were in, and cowered in fear.
But Joseph did not turn the tables on his brothers. Instead, he wept, and he forgave them. He would not set himself as a judge over them. Instead he forgave them, and he fed them, and he gave them a place to live, and he welcomed them to be a part of his life again. And he did this because he knew that despite his brothers' cruelty in their youth, God had taken the whole situation - the good and the bad of it - and had used it for good. Because Joseph was a wise manager and an interpreter of dreams, he'd used his position to make sure that pharoah had carefully stored grain for times of famine, thereby saving many people's lives - including his own father and family. Joseph was glad to be able to help them, and instead of getting his revenge, he did just what Paul recommended last week - he overcame evil with good.
Forgiveness is not letting someone off the hook for something awful they did. Rather, it is letting go of your own baggage about it. Forgiveness is unburdening yourself of resentment and the thirst for revenge, allowing God to be the ultimate judge. It is a hard thing to do, especially when you feel hurt. But the story of Joseph shows the way that forgiveness can bring a whole new life.
Have you ever heard the phrase, "Abandon all hope for a better past?" Forgiveness helps us let go of the things we have no power to change and it frees us up to change the things we can, primarily being the kind of person we most want to be. So are you nursing any old wounds? Are there people in your life that you'd rather not cross paths with because you resent them? Do you have unfinished business, unsaid words or stored up gripes with anyone? If so, consider giving yourself the gift of forgiving them. It's not letting that other person off the hook. But it's allowing you to move forward unburdened, to be the person you most want to be.
Our readings for this Sunday are HERE. During ordinary time, we are using track 2 - note that our Old Testament lesson this Sunday will be the Genesis 50.