Forgive your brothers

Genesis 50:15-21     Pentecost 14

There are two completely shocking moments in the entire Joseph narrative.

The first is in Genesis 37, when after throwing Joseph into the pit, his brothers sit down and have lunch.

That is the absolute epitome of power and of cruelty: Joseph poses no threat to them, and yet they are so disgusted with him, that his cries for help from the bottom of the pit and his struggles to free himself are not only of no concern, but they are so amused by them, that they sit down and have lunch, and presumably, watch him struggle.

What follows, in selling him to the Ishmaelites, who take him to Egypt and then their lying to their father, Jacob, about the whole thing is deplorable; but that they could sit down and eat while Joseph was right there in the pit shows the depth of their disgust for Joseph.

And so you have to imagine, that once Joseph makes himself known to his brothers, that image, the haunting echoes of his cries for help, of his feeble attempts to climb out, of the look of relief on his face when they do pull him out, only to see the tears when they sell him to the Ishmaelites, and then the wailing of Jacob when they lie to him that Joseph is dead; all of that is constantly playing through their minds.

Make no mistake about it, Joseph was a spoiled brat of a child, and he was a terrible brother to them, but they treated him wrongly, they sold him and then lied to everyone for years about it; one can only assume that it is just a matter of time before Joseph has his revenge.

After all, revenge is a dish best served cold.

And now today, the roles are reversed. They are the ones in the pit; they are the ones crying out for help; they are the ones making feeble attempts to get out; they are the ones who should be punished; and Joseph is in a position to make it happen. Joseph is second in command in all Egypt; Joseph can have his brothers arrested and killed in an instant; Joseph holds more power over his brothers than they ever held over him.

And now Jacob is dead. Although he could have done it earlier if he so desired and no one would have questioned him, Jacob served as a deterrent between Joseph and his brothers. But Jacob is dead now. What will happen now ask Joseph’s brothers?

That is the power of sin on our conscience. We look at our actions and ask: did I really do that? Did I really say that? Did I really go there? I deserve to be punished severely. How can anyone forget, let alone forgive, what I did?

And you know why we expect Joseph to be an even bigger jerk as an adult then he was as a kid? Because that is exactly what you and I would do.

Joseph’s brothers did him wrong, and now it is Joseph’s chance to get them back. If his brothers are lucky, Joseph will kill them quickly, if not, then he will torture them with this for decades.

Because that is what we would do. That is what we do every day.

We expect Joseph to want revenge. We expect Joseph to punish his brothers. We expect Joseph to bring this incident up and hold it over his brothers head every day of every year. Every time there is a family reunion, every time there is a family photo, every time Joseph gets the chance, you can bet the pit episode is going to come up, and Joseph is going to be sure to remind his brothers what they did to him. And you can be sure that Joseph is going to remind everyone else in Egypt about what his brothers did to him.

Because that is what we would do. That is what we do every day.

Forgive someone who did you wrong? Not until they pay you back. Forgive someone who took what was yours? Not until they are embarrassed beyond belief. Forgive someone for what they said? Not until you say five things bad about them.

Joseph is in a position most of us can only dream about.

And that brings us to the second shocking moment in the entire Joseph narrative.

Joseph forgives his brothers.

Joseph forgives them for casting him into the pit, for ignoring his cries for help, for selling him into Egypt, for lying about it for years. Joseph forgives them for everything.

How many of you could do that?

To be honest, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.

We like it when it happens to us. And do not be mistaken, it did happen to you.

Your sins against your neighbor; your sins against your family; your sins against total strangers are very great indeed. You may not have sat down and had lunch while they were squirming in a pit, but you did covet after their possessions; you may not have sold them to the Ismaelites, but you did take what was not rightfully yours; you may not have walked around for 20 years telling people that they were dead, but you have murdered them with your words and thoughts.

And yet, what does your heavenly Father say to you?

Does He cast you out of His sight and send you out to suffer? Does He sentence you to an eternal punishment to pay off your debts? Does He strike you down where you stand?

No; He does none of this. For the only thing more shocking than the sins that you have committed in thought, word and deed against your neighbor and against God, is that God sent His one and only Son into the world to suffer and die for your sins, so that He might be a deterrent from God punishing you.

For when you stand before your Father who is in heaven, with nothing but the ugliness of your sins to show for, you are not struck down, or punished or sentenced; instead you are forgiven.

God the Father looks at the holes in the hands, feet and side of Jesus, and announces that your sins are forgiven. Your sins against your family, are forgiven. Your sins against your neighbors, are forgiven. Your sins against complete and total strangers, are forgiven.

Now go and do likewise.

For your Father who is in heaven has forgiven you a very great deal. He has removed a great burden from your shoulders. He has opened to you the gates of Paradise.

Now go and do likewise to those who have done you wrong.

Forgive that family member who took what was yours. Forgive that neighbor who spoke against you. Forgive that stranger who did not stop to help you.

Forgive them, and remove from them the burden of guilt that weighs upon their conscience, just as your Father in heaven has forgiven and removed the great burden of guilt that weighed upon your conscience.

Forgive them, as God in Christ Jesus has forgiven you.

Forgive them as Joseph forgave his brothers; accept their forgiveness as Joseph accepted the forgiveness of his brothers.

For after the death of Jacob, and after the forgiveness granted by Joseph to his brothers, and the forgiveness granted by the brothers to Joseph, I imagine there was another meal shared between them, very much unlike the one in Genesis 37, when Joseph was in the pit.

I imagine this was a meal of fellowship, a meal of brothers gathering together in peace and harmony, to celebrate their common heritage. A meal where there were no cries for help, no mocking the squirming of the oppressed; but a meal where there were shouts of joy, a meal lifting up the weak and the lowly.

A meal very much like the meal that we share together here at this altar. For that is where forgiveness leads us: it leads us here, to where we are united in a bond of fellowship that finds its root in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

A meal where we shout loud Hosannas; a meal where the powerful and the meek, the rich and the power are united. A meal of peace and harmony. A meal where the fruits of forgiveness are shared in the fellowship of the redeemed.

A meal where God Himself is present, in our midst and in our company, rejoicing with the forgiven for what God has done.

About revschmidt

An LCMS Pastor in North-Central Kansas
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