“I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:4-5).
Going through today’s first reading, two things struck me about the way and manner Joseph forgave his brothers:
Firstly, we must bear in mind that this event happened in the book of Genesis, that is, God had not even given the people of Israel the Ten Commandment and there was no specific teaching on the topic of forgiveness at this time. Joseph had every moral justification to deal mercilessly with his brothers.
Secondly, we notice that Joseph’s brothers did not apologize to him. It was never the case of his brothers going down on their knees to say “We are sorry.” When Judah spoke on behalf of his brothers, he still maintained the narrative that one of their brothers died a long time ago, he couldn’t even tell the truth that they actually sold this brother of theirs into slavery. This alone could have triggered Joseph’s anger the more but surprisingly Joseph burst into tears.
Are you waiting for your offender to come and apologize first, or to admit he or she was wrong? The truth is that this might never happen. People hardly admit their fault. Even those who killed Jesus were still convinced they had done what was right even after His resurrection. If our forgiveness is based on people’s admission of guilt or based on a sheer desire to obey God’s command to forgive, then we would never actually forgive others from our hearts.
Joseph had a higher purpose for forgiving his brothers. What is this higher purpose? From Joseph’s own words we hear this higher purpose: “Do not be angry with yourselves because you sold me here for God sent me before you to preserve your life.” In one instance, Joseph read a positive meaning to all the pain and sorrow he had experienced since the day his brothers sold him. It was as if Joseph was saying: “you did nothing wrong in selling me, you did not offend me, you only helped me to achieve what God had planned for me.”
Joseph read a positive meaning to all his sufferings and all his pain and anger immediately vanished. Joseph forgave his brothers not because God asked him to forgive, not because his brothers begged for it, but because Joseph freed himself from the heavy load of pain he had been carrying in his heart. He had for long wondered at the reason for his brother’s cruelty but today, he realised God had a hand in all that happened to him. He must have wondered why Potipher’s wife was so wicked, but today it dawned on him that all that temptation was part of his training in self-discipline; that it was just a test which he passed to prepare him for the office of Governor.
When we are able to see the hand of God in our sufferings, a lot of healing takes place within us and this healing is necessary for forgiveness. As St. Paul would say: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Do not try to force yourself to forgive, instead try to rethink the events. Ask yourself: what if this person was actually doing me good? Or have I not benefitted somehow from this experience? By thinking in this line, you would come to the point where you no longer feel the compulsion to inflict pain on anyone else in the name of revenge.
We may have valid reasons for withholding our forgiveness, but the truth is that unless we forgive, we block our own chances of finding happiness and peace. Jesus told His disciples “preach as you go.” Preaching is not something we do, it is actually a life we live, and forgiving others is one of the best sermons we can deliver.
Also, Jesus warned His disciples not to turn God’s gifts into some business outfit. He says: “You received without paying, give without pay. Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag… nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staff for the labourer deserves his food.” The truth is, as Satan tempted Jesus offering Him the kingdoms of the world in exchange for a bow, men/women of God continue to face the same temptation to replace our love for God with a love for riches, material wealth and personal glory. We pray for the grace to overcome this temptation, especially in today’s harsh economic climate.