How can you expect me to forgive them?
Few experiences in life hurt us more than betrayal at the hands of family or someone else we trust–it’s almost too much to forgive. In the Old Testament, Joseph experienced that kind of betrayal.
Jacob doted excessively on Joseph, his favorite and youngest of twelve sons. Remember the coat of many colors that Jacob gave to Joseph? And it wasn’t just the fancy coat. Joseph was indulged and spoiled, and his father made no attempt to hide his favoritism.
But I doubt that Joseph knew he was spoiled. What young person knows it? And what adult will admit that we are privileged beyond what is fair. It’s quite rare, for people of privilege to recognize our unfair advantage. We might not have created the advantage, but it’s there.
We see it all the time–the unfair advantages related to racial injustice, inequity in pay and employment opportunities, and in so many other instances, when one person or group of people–or even a nation–is advantaged over others. Even if the advantage is a result of birth or other circumstances beyond our control, as it was for Joseph, that unfair advantage takes its toll.
It’s no surprise that Joseph’s brothers felt tremendous jealousy and anger in response to Joseph’s favorite-son status. In fact, they wanted to kill him–but decided to sell him into slavery instead. Joseph was taken by slave traders to Egypt where he ended up as a servant in Pharaoh’s household.
From favorite son to Pharaoh’s slave at the hands of his own brothers. What could be a more bitterly unfair betrayal?
We all know that life is not always fair. Just this week, we are reminded of how pernicious and unfair life can be:
- Robin Williams
- Gaza, the Ukraine, Iraq
- Children at the U.S. border
- The community of Ferguson, Missouri
- . . . the list seems endless, today.
Injustice exists–it thrives in the world today. As Christians, it’s how we respond to injustice that sets us apart from so many others. How we respond speaks volumes about what we believer about our selves, others, and God. Sometimes we have the power and the wherewithal to resolve injustice, to make things right. But too often, resolution is not within our sphere of influence.
When we cannot change that which is unfair and wrong, sometimes we take a page out of the life of Jesus and try doing what he did. Remember how Jesus got visibly angry at the inappropriate behavior of the moneychangers in the temple, the ones who cheated the people? Jesus overturned the tables and chased them off. Unfortunately, Jesus’ angry demonstration did not change the temple money-changing system; they were back the next day. But Jesus spoke-up against the unfairness.
I don’t know about you, but time and again, this week, I’ve thought, “THIS is wrong.” This is WRONG–wrong and very sad. But unlike Jesus, I have not made my opinion known in the public venue. Most of us don’t know how to respond: often we cannot and sometimes we will not. Then again, we are not Jesus. You and I rightly struggle to discern what’s the best public response to injustice and unfairness. There is no easy answer.
Joseph, in the Old Testament story, must have struggled with how to address his brothers’ betrayal. After all, they sold him into slavery and he ended up in Egypt. But then came a great famine that lasted for years. And eventually, the brothers found themselves in Egypt, too, attempting to purchase grain from Pharaoh, grain for which they must negotiate with none other than Joseph.
Joseph recognized them, but the brothers had no idea it was Joseph. When Joseph couldn’t stand it any longer, he burst out with the truth, telling the brothers that it’s him, their long-lost brother, Joseph. Instead of rejoicing with Joseph, the brothers were terrified that in his present position of power, Joseph would take this opportunity to get back at them, to get even for selling him as a slave.
But somehow that day, with his brothers before him, Joseph was able to reach beyond his own pain, beyond his memories and anger, even beyond what is fair–to the point of love and forgiveness for his brothers. Joseph was ready to forgive and move on with his life, a life that included his brothers.
Forgiveness is incredibly powerful–much more powerful than retaliation. Forgiveness transforms not only our life, when we do the forgiving, but forgiveness also has the potential to transform the life of the person we forgive.
But how do I forgive someone who is not sorry for what they did–someone who doesn’t admit they wronged me? We just DO it. We forgive.
That’s exactly what Joseph did. He forgave his brothers, though they never asked. He simply forgave them, because it was the right thing to do–and it gave him back his family.
In the long run, forgiving is not something we do because we must. Forgiving is not something we do for the other person’s sake. We forgive for our own benefit. Through forgiveness, we remove our self from the role of victim. When we forgive, we at least have a chance at mending the rift and becoming brothers and sisters. When we forgive, we free our self from that wrong and we can move on to incredible freedom.
Actually, Jesus did not suggest that in the face of every injustice we should overturn the tables in the heat of anger. The scripture implores us to be on the side of the poor and the oppressed and Jesus showed us what true advocacy looks like: Loving the Lord God with all our heart, mind and spirit—and loving our neighbor as our self.
Jesus also said that we should always, always . . . FORGIVE.
In a world that is so overflowing with jealousy, selfishness and anger, we pray that Christians will demonstrate a Christ-like response in today’s most precarious situations. Sometimes our response will include the modern-day equivalent of overthrowing the tables in the temple. Often our Christ-like response will simply be to turn the other cheek. But always, ALWAYS we are called-on to forgive.
After all is said and done, it is forgiveness that makes things right, and it is forgiveness that restores peace and family relationships.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it – always.” - Mahatma Gandhi