After burying his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, together with his brothers and all the others who had gone with him to bury his father. When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?" So they sent word to Joseph, saying, "Your father left these instructions before he died: `This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.' Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father." When their message came to him, Joseph wept. His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. "We are your slaves," they said. But Joseph said to them, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children." And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
Let us meditate on the topic,
In life we have many basic needs. We need to have food, a place to sleep, clothes on our back, and if we live in this part of the world, we need money. Scientists have even proven that we need to have love, to have some sort of human companionship.
In addition to these basic needs, we also have the need to be validated by our peers, to be accepted into some sort of circle, to feel as if we matter in this world. Some people even feel the need to create and leave a legacy for generations to come.
Our needs change on a regular basis. What we once thought we needed 10 years ago, we no longer need. Either because we already have it or we no longer value it's importance in our lives. But for every need that goes away, there is another that will quickly take it's place.
In our interpersonal relationships, our needs are always on the forefront. In our circle of friends, we find balance. Either we are with people who are just like us, or the total opposite. Sometimes we even have a mix of the two. When we seek a mate, we need someone that will compliment our personality. We need someone who will compliment and accentuate those values that we hold near and dear. After all, there is no use in having a relationship with someone that you are constantly arguing with or never see eye to eye on a single issue.
But in relationships, be it family, friends, social or professional, there will be mishaps. There will be misunderstandings. Sometimes there will be betrayal. No relationship is without it's ups and downs and ins and outs.
During the down times of these relationships, there is bound to be a hurtful statement, an action that was unnecessary or unappreciated, and a myriad of other things. In short, most of our relationships will have problems. And there will come a time when we will be faced with the decision on whether or not to forgive someone.
And depending on the type of relationship that you have with a person will determine how you choose to resolve that problem. The problems with family will be handled differently than with a friend or co-worker. The problems with a spouse with even differ from the problems with a family member.
With so many dynamics to a relationship, it's a wonder that we get along at all. But yet, somehow, we continue with our routines and make it from day to day, hoping to avoid the major conflict.
In the scripture we just read, we have Joseph, towards the end of his reign over Egypt. Joseph was someone who as a child had a lot of problems with his brothers. They were jealous of him, mainly because of his gift of dreams and the fact that he was their fathers favorite. So in order to get rid of this problem, his brothers conspired against him, and allowed him to be taken into slavery.
As a result, Joseph grew to be one of the most important rulers over Egypt. Because of his brothers jealously and insecurities, what started out as something to harm Joseph, ended up benefiting him more than anything anyone could have imagined.
So we come to a point in Joseph's life, a ruler of Egypt, Pharaoh's right hand man. A man with power and influence. A man with the ability to feed or not to feed people. A man who literally held the welfare of an entire people in his hand. His brothers discover that the little brother that they left out in the field was now in a position of power.
After the burial of Joseph's father, the brothers were left with an interesting situation. They wondered if Joseph would hold a grudge against them for what they did to Joseph. So in attempt to gain favor with Joseph, they sent him a message from their father. A message that instructs the brothers to ask for Joseph's forgiveness for what they have done to him. They take the message to Joseph and deliver it to him.
Joseph was moved at the message from his brothers. He was moved to the point of tears. Then the brothers threw themselves at the feet of Joseph in an act of submission and petition, declaring that they were now the slaves of Joseph. But Joseph, having been through a great ordeal in the time since he was given over to slavery, declined their offer, and instead pointed out to them that he was not God. And that even though they tried to do harm to him, that God had a different plan for him, and grander plan that any of them planned on. Joseph was doing the will of God. And he goes on to reassure them that not only will he not harm them, but that he will provide for their children. Then Joseph went on, to continue to put their fears to rest, and going on about the business.
In other words, despite everything that was done to Joseph, the slavery, the beatings, the frame up, the imprisonment, Joseph had the capacity to forgive. And he forgave the people who out of jealously and spite, only wanted him dead or out of the way. He forgave. Joseph had the capacity within himself to put aside his own mistrust and forgive the people, his family, who sought to do him harm.
Forgiving someone is not easy. In fact, it is one of the hardest things to do. For in the course of forgiving someone, you must release all of the anger and resentment that you have towards a person and exercise some Christian charity. You must let go of that part of you that is wounded and damaged and then, in what is nothing but love, accept the situation and move on. You must forgive.
In the last few days, forgiveness has popped up with me over and over again. And I must admit, that there is one situation in particular in which it is hard for me to forgive. And yes, I profess myself to be a Christian. But I understand that in the guise of Christian charity, it's not always easy.
After reviewing these events in my life, I realized that it is much easier to carry a grudge, to continue to keep evil thoughts against someone, than to let go, release it, and let God handle it. I realized that by holding on to the anger and to the resentment, that I was the main person being damaged in the situation.
Then I thought about Jesus. I thought about all of the things that Jesus taught and lived regarding forgiveness. In Matthew 18, Peter asks Jesus how many times someone is to be forgiven. And Jesus' reply, as we all know, was "seven times seventy." Now, for those of you who are like me and bad at math, that is 490 times. So for every one instance of someone doing something that wounds you, you are to forgive them 490 times.
In the Lord's prayer, we are taught to ask God to forgive us for our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Now this is in a prayer that most of us were taught in our early childhood. It was drummed into us almost like our name was. And Jesus tells us that when we pray, that this is to be how we are to pray and what we are to ask for. So we are supposed to ask God to not only forgive us, but to forgive those people who do us wrong.
Matthew 6:14-15 says "For if you forgive men who sin against you, your heavenly father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."
Mark 2:10 goes on to say "But that you may know that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins...."
Luke 6:37 says "Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven."
And let us not forget those words that Jesus spoke on the cross as he was about to give his life for our sins. "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."
I could go on, but you get the point. Jesus time and time again taught us, both by word and example, that we are to forgive one another. That we are to forgive if for no other reason that we might forgive. That by holding on to our anger and our evil thoughts, that the only person we are truly hurting is ourselves.
Now, there is one thing that is very important in all of this. Nowhere are we told to forget. While forgiveness is a mandate that Jesus gives us, he does not tell us that we have to forget, and this is an important distinction.
When you forgive someone, what you are doing is releasing those things that will interfere with your spirit. The longer you hold a grudge against someone, the more your spirit suffers and the more you are acting not in accordance with God. However, there is nothing saying that you have to continue to put yourself in situations where you will have to forgive 490 times plus.
We seem to confuse forgiveness and forgetting. By forgiving and not forgetting, what we are doing is taking the experience and learning from it. Some of the most valuable lessons in life come when we are put in situations where people are almost certain to harm us or hurt us. But it is in those times, if we truly look at it with love and kindness, that we learn from it and grow stronger as a result.
Forgiving means that we accept the person as a child of God with faults. Forgiving means that we understand the importance of having a good spirit, a spirit that is close to God. A spirit that enables us to look past the faults and the misdeeds of other, and greet them with the love of Christ and reassure them that you hold no ill will towards them.
This is what Joseph did. Despite the fact that he suffered great mental, physical and spiritual harm, despite the fact that he was betrayed by his own brothers, despite the fact that other than being a normal teenager with a gift that he did nothing, he found it in his heart to forgive his brothers. He found the capacity to let go of the part of himself that was in turmoil and let God handle the rest.
There is one more point to this. Often when it comes to forgiveness, there is one person that we can almost never forgive. There is one person that always does something and we can never forgive them for it. We get in a situation where things have gotten so difficult that to forgive this person would take the greatest leap of faith that we have ever been caused to take. And that person is ourselves.
If we look back over our own lives, we see the mistakes we made, the errors we committed, the wrongs we levied against another person. We can see the times where we stray from God, where we turned away from Jesus, and we looked only at ourselves. We obsess and beat ourselves up over things, and we carry them like a wound on our hearts.
But as Jesus told us to forgive others, we are also to forgive ourselves. Maybe Joseph was able to forgive himself for being so bold in his bragging about his dreams and his fathers obvious preference for him over his brothers. Maybe Joseph realized that sometimes, we have as much to do with the situations we find ourselves in as the people who put us there. Whatever the reason, whatever the rationale, when Joseph forgave his brothers, he forgave himself.
Because when you truly forgive someone, you are turning it over to God. No matter what you have done in your life, if you can allow yourself to forgive, then God will forgive you. No matter how bad your past, no matter how many sins you committed, no matter how evil of a person you thought you were, but giving it all up to God, by casting all of your doubts upon Jesus, you can be forgiven.
You can be forgiven because Jesus said you can. Because Jesus gave up his life and rose from the dead in order that you might be absolved of your sins.
You see, Jesus has already forgiven you. He knows what is truly in your heart. He knows what your mistakes are and why you did it. But you have to turn into yourself and accept the gift of forgiveness that Jesus offers you. You have to accept the fact that we are not perfect, and therefore, there are things we will do that are not in accordance to the laws of God. But because of the sacrifice and redemption of Jesus, you are forgiven. You are forgiven by your father in heaven. And just as Joseph, after he forgave, he reassured, I am here to tell you this morning that your Father, the compassionate and loving God, the God of mercy, the God of patience, the God of love, is waiting to forgive you and for you to forgive yourself.
So this morning I invite you to forgive. To forgive your neighbor, to forgive yourself, and let God handle the rest. To let God handle the anger and the frustration. Let God handle those things that you find it hard to let go of. To handle those issues that seem to great for you to handle by yourself. I invite you to turn into yourself, forgive yourself, and cast your burdens upon him.
After all, if Joseph could forgive his brothers for all of problems that they caused him: the imprisonment, the slavery, the humiliation, then you can too. If Jesus, as he was about to die for the world, can take time out to ask God to forgive the ones that were about to kill him, then you can too. If you want your sins forgiven, if you want your spirit to be relieved, then you must forgive. You must forgive yourself and forgive others. We know it is not easy. None of this is easy. But the more you try, the more you work at it, the easier it becomes. The more you rely on God and not yourself, the easier it becomes to forgive and to release it. The more you let God be in charge of your life and your problems, then the easier it is the let go of the things that hamper and damage your spirit.
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(Charles E. Smoot © 2000-2009, all rights reserved)