Radical Forgiveness – September 29, 2019
Genesis 45:1-15, Matthew 18:21-35
September 29, 2019
Except for the story of the Exodus, I think the story of Joseph might be the most important story in the Old Testament. And it’s one of my favorites! Last week, Kari “regaled you” with the first part of the story. So I couldn’t resist a little “regaling” myself. I’d like us to look at “the rest of the story.” So let me start by reminding you of what’s happened so far.
Joseph was the favorite son of his father Jacob. And Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, after his father gave him his “coat of many colors,” (or sleeves) and after he told them of his dreams of greatness, in which he saw them bowing down to him. And then he ran into further problems when he had a little “incident” with the wife of Potiphar, the man who had bought him as a slave.
So, Joseph was thrown into an Egyptian prison. And there, he happened to meet up with a couple of other prisoners who were having dreams of their own. (There are lots of dreams in this story!) So Joseph interprets their dreams for them. One of the men was a butler in the Pharaoh’s house. And he was happy, because Joseph told him he was going to be released soon. The other was a baker. He was not so happy because Joseph told him he would soon be executed. (Which he was!)
By the way, if you haven’t seen “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat,” which is Andrew Lloyd Weber’s version of this story, find it! Watch it You’ll thank me! Oh, and try to get the version where Joseph is played by Donnie Osmond! Say what you will, but that man can sing. That boy’s got some pipes!!
So, the next thing we learn in this story is that the Pharaoh himself is also having a recurring dream, and no one can help him figure out what it means. That is, until the butler happens to tell the Pharaoh that he met a guy in prison who was pretty good with dreams. So Pharaoh summons Joseph, and tells him his dream.
Pharaoh’s dream is about seven fat cows being eaten by seven skinny cows. (Yeah, that’s the short version of it!) And Joseph tells the pharaoh that it means that there’s going to be seven years of amazing, bountiful harvests, followed by seven years of severe famine. So he advises him to hire a good business manager to oversee the storage of food in those first seven years.
Well, in an amazing turn of events, Pharaoh gives Joseph the job! He makes Joseph second in command of all Egypt. And so we have this Hebrew boy, sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, who is now the one who’s managing Egypt’s food supply. And it all works out so well, that Egypt becomes the “breadbasket for the world!”
And the thing I like to point out here is that we tend to see Egypt in the Bible as being an “evil empire.” That’s because we tend to judge Egypt by the Pharaoh who came along later, the Pharaoh “who did not know Joseph”. He was the one who enslaved the Hebrew people, and inflicted on them heavy and bitter bondage. That’s what we tend to think about. But Egypt was a great civilization. And here in the story of Joseph, we see Egypt as even being a benevolent civilization!
So, rewind to those brothers. The seven years of famine have hit their land very hard! Back in Canaan, they’re starving! And they’ve heard that Egypt is the place to go for food. So they go. And when they get there, they have to go see Egypt’s minster of agriculture and food production. And that means that they find themselves standing before their very brother, who they sold into slavery – rather than killing him outright – which was their first plan! (What wonderful guys these are!) But Joseph has changed so much in Egypt that they don’t recognize him. (It’s been something like twenty years now, and he’s grown up!)
What a great story! And that’s here we pick up the story for today. This is now the end of the story. This is where Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. And as he does, remember that he could have held a grudge against him. He could have held a huge grudge! We might even think him justified if he sought revenge against them! Think about it. They sold him into slavery. He’s been thrown into prison. And because of what they did, he hasn’t seen his beloved father for over twenty years. And now he holds great power. Now, he is second in command of all Egypt. Now he has the power to take that revenge. With a word, he could have them executed!
But that’s not what happened! Instead, we have this wonderful scene of reconciliation and great joy. Instead of vengeance, Joseph gave to brothers what I’m calling “Radical forgiveness.” He gave them forgiveness they didn’t deserve. He actually forgave them before he revealed who he was – or at least at the same time! In other words, he didn’t wait for them to say they were sorry. He didn’t give them a chance to say they were sorry. (We don’t even know if they would have!) That’s what I’m calling “radical forgiveness.” And what I want you to see today, is that that is a powerful thing!
In the movie Schindler’s List, there was a great scene where Oscar Schindler was talking with a friend who was the commandant of a terrible prison camp. And the commandant was telling Schindler about the power he had. He had the power to execute people, at will. He was almost reveling in that power! And in that scene, Schindler tried to convince him that it shows an even greater power when you forgive someone. Think about it. Anybody can act in a vengeful way. It doesn’t take a strong person to do that. That’s the natural reaction – to strike back! It takes an even greater power not to strike back!
Have you seen the move called “42”? That’s the story of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play Major League Baseball. (He wore number 42!) If you haven’t seen it, I recommend that one, too! (I’ll give you a list, later.) Branch Rickey was the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and he was the one who wanted to bring Jackie into the Major League. And in one amazing scene, Rickey, played by Harrison Ford (One of his greatest roles ever!) was trying to tell Jackie what he was going to face if he tried to try to play what was then a white man’s game. He would be cursed. He would be threatened. “Can you imagine the vitriol?” he said. And Jackie said, “And you want someone who has the guts to fight back.” And Mr. Rickey said, “No! I want a player who has the guts not to fight back!” The idea was that “If you do, you’ll only prove them right, that you don’t belong.” “You be a gentleman and just play the game!” He even quoted Jesus, saying Jackie would have to have the strength to “turn the other cheek.”
That’s radical forgiveness! That’s what we are called to have as God’s people. God wants people who have the guts not to fight back! He wants people who don’t take offense. He wants people who are “slow to anger and quick to forgive.” He wants people who know how to forgive! He wants people who can follow Jesus who, from the cross prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Then I want you to consider one other aspect of radical forgiveness, one that occurs in this story. I mentioned it a few minutes ago. Joseph forgave his brothers before they even asked, before they even apologized! (Which maybe they wouldn’t have done!) It’s one thing when somebody hurts you, and they realize they were wrong, and they come to you asking for forgiveness. Even that’s still hard sometimes. But the harder form of “radical forgiveness” is when someone hurts you, and you know there’s no chance they’d ever admit they did anything wrong or ever think about asking for forgiveness – and you forgive them anyway!
That’s Radical Forgiveness! And that’s tough!! I went through that myself a number of years ago. I went through some very tough times. And I didn’t think the person who hurt me the most would ever admit it, let alone try to make amends. But I had to learn to forgive them, anyway! It was a struggle! But, for my own peace of mind, it was worth the struggle!
That was so important! And I’m glad I learned that! It’s helped me through other difficult times in my life. (In more recent years.) You see, that’s the part of forgiveness that helps us. When we forgive, when we let go of that anger and bitterness, we receive peace. And that’s what God wants for us! Oh, it doesn’t always happen right away. Sometimes it takes time. And it is a learning process! And sometimes we have to remind ourselves over and over that we have forgiven that other person. Because we’re only human, and those hurting, vengeful feelings can come up again within us, even when we think we’re over whatever it was.
That is “Radical Forgiveness.” And that’s something that too many people in our world won’t even try. Too many people in our world see forgiveness as weakness. They see this life as “kill or be killed.” If somebody hurts you, you hurt them back! You don’t give any ground to “the other side” or it’s seen as a loss! That’s how people live in our world! People in this world don’t want to forgive, and so they carry that hurt, that unforgiving, resentful, bitter feeling within them.
As Jesus said, “It shall not be so among you!!” We are called to a higher love, a love that doesn’t look to the self, a love that doesn’t dwell on how we may have been hurt, a love that knows there is great strength in forgiveness, a love that knows that there is great peace to be found, if we let go of the anger and resentment and bitterness – and forgive!
May we strive, every day, to be such people! It’s not easy. But it is worth it! And it is our call!
Eternal God, we love, because you first loved us. So help us to forgive because you have first forgiven us! Help us to let go of the anger and bitterness and self righteousness that may be weighing us down, and to know that peace that can come through being forgiving people. O Lord give us the strength. For these things we pray through him who came to show us your forgiveness, through Jesus Christ our Savior, Amen.