45 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.
4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. 10 You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ 12 And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him. (Genesis 45:1-15 NRSV)
He was a spoiled, entitled “little brother.” Worst of all, Dad loved him best.
He was bright, but he wasn’t very savvy. He was an immature seventeen-year-old when he shared with his brothers some of his dreams.
“It was an awesome dream. We were all binding sheaves in the field when my sheaf stood tall and all your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed to it.” (Genesis 37:7)
“I had another dream,” he announced a few days later. “The sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”
Everyone knew the meaning of these dreams. Joseph believed that some day his brothers would bow down to him; that he would rule over them. Outrageous! His father rebuked him strongly. As far as his brothers were concerned, it was too little too late.
His brothers planned to kill him. Through a series of incidents they ended up selling him to a band of Ishmaelites who were traveling to Egypt from Gilead, the producer of balm. They made a deal with the caravan drivers and then reported back to their father that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.
Joseph served in the house of Potiphar, the captain of the Egyptian guard. Joseph rose in stature in the general’s home and served him well. Meanwhile, Mrs. Potiphar found Joseph to be handsome and tried to seduce him. Joseph would have none of it, so she accused him of attempted rape. Joseph was thrown in jail.
His fellow prisoners discovered his gift of interpreting dreams. Pharaoh’s cup bearer was one of these, having been put in jail under Pharaoh’s orders. Joseph accurately interpreted his dreams and assured him he would be returned to service. When the cup bearer was, indeed, returned to service, he heard that Pharaoh had dreams of his own. Eventually, he remembered Joseph and recommended him to Pharaoh. And now we come to the heart of the Joseph “novella.”
Joseph successfully interpreted Pharaoh’s dream and also provided a solution to what would become a national disaster. For seven years, the land would enjoy bumper crops of grain. But, then there would be seven years of famine. The solution Joseph suggested was ingenious and simple: find someone whom you trust and have him oversee the collection of the crops. Every year, one-fifth of the harvest should be held in silos until the famine strikes. Then there will be enough for everyone.
Pharaoh not only approved the plan, he appointed Joseph to oversee the project. Joseph successfully saved Egypt from starvation and disaster. He rose to power quickly, becoming Pharaoh’s second in command.
Now the scene is set. God has been at work. Joseph’s plight has been used to carry out God’s plan to save Jacob’s family in Canaan. By the second year of famine, Canaan has also come up against hard times and Jacob sends his sons to Egypt to purchase grain. Joseph recognizes them immediately; all they see is an Egyptian ruler.
Joseph toys with them and holds them for a few days. Eventually, he concocts a plan to get them to go back for their youngest brother, Benjamin. Joseph and Benjamin had been close as children, and he longed to see him. He also knew that his father, Jacob, would be reluctant to let Benjamin go since he was his new favorite son.
Eventually, the time comes for Joseph to reveal himself. And this is the twist in the story. He could have had his brothers imprisoned, even killed. He could have sold them into slavery like they had done to him. He could have refused to sell them grain. He had the power to act out his pain any way he desired.
He chose to forgive them.
Forgiveness isn’t forgetting. It isn’t saying that it’s okay. Selling Joseph into slavery wasn’t okay. It was a horrible thing to do. It hurt Joseph; it nearly killed their father. They mistreated a beloved creation of God.
I believe it was Lily Tomlin who said, “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.” She’s right. When we hold onto the hurt, we’re allowing the chains of pain to encircle us and choke us off. We become bitter and hateful and hate-filled. We fail to be the authentic person God intends us to be.
Forgiveness is a process. When the shooter of nine people at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC was brought before a judge, an amazing thing happened. One by one, members of the church confronted him. They described their pain and what he had done to change their lives and their families forever. And to a person, each one said, “I forgive you.”
They weren’t saying, “Oh, it’s okay. You’re in a bad place.” They also didn’t say, “May you rot in hell!” They didn’t get through their pain that day. What they said was, “You and evil will not win today.”
That Sunday in worship, they sang, “This is my story, this is my song, praising my savior all the day long.” Over and over and over again, they sang it. They would not allow evil to rule the day. They would not allow anger and hate to wrap them in its grip and change them. They clearly understood themselves to be children of God and followers of Christ. They would get through this with God’s help. And the first step was forgiving.
Joseph not only forgave, he began the steps to reconciliation. Notice that he stated clearly what the brothers had done to him: selling him into slavery. Joseph looked back on how his life had played out and saw God at work. Because of his being sent to Egypt, Joseph was able to save his family and provide a place for them to grow and thrive.
The brothers and Joseph probably spent years reconciling what had been done and understanding how God had used it for good. It would be years before the brothers would seek forgiveness from Joseph and he would give it. “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 50:20 NRSV)
What does forgiveness look like today? It looks like an adult son of an abusive father finally facing and acknowledging the physical and emotional pain and saying, “I forgive him. I don’t know what pain he was suffering, but I refuse to let it ruin my life. I forgive him.”
It looks like an employee forgiving a boss stealing his ideas to make himself look good. He moves on to use his newly recognized gifts with an employer who values his contributions.
It looks like a support group for parents of murdered children who acknowledge their pain and suffering and use it to help others in similar circumstances while working to strengthen laws that make their community safer.
It looks like a group of people who realize their white privilege. They acknowledge it and forgive themselves. Then they work with others to understand and eliminate racist laws and attitudes. They refuse to hate. They choose to stand with and for others who are hurt and sidelined.
That spoiled and entitled little brother has a lot to teach us about forgiveness. He had to learn who he was and how he had hurt others. He lived out a value system that refused to take advantage of others, but chose to help others understand themselves.
He learned to use his gifts of discernment and organization to save his adopted nation and his birth family.
As I study white privilege I am appalled and ashamed. I have lived a good life, having worked hard to get where I am today. Yet, I now realize that there are many who worked harder than I did and didn’t get as far, not because of anything to do with their failings, but because of the color of their skin.
We have a choice. Ignore it and the growing hatred in our nation. Understand it and live in shame.
Or. We can learn and understand and forgive ourselves. Then step forward with others to stem this tide of bigotry and hate, not to make ourselves feel better or to make atonement. But, because we recognize injustice for what it is and that God created us to live in peace and harmony with our neighbor, regardless of race or ethnicity or disability or anything else that threatens to separate us.
I choose forgiveness. I pray for discernment to move into a place of reconciliation with my neighbor.
All glory and honor be to God.