Joseph said to his brothers, "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.”
Forgiveness is tricky. Someone does you wrong; you react with hurt or anger, or both. You do someone wrong, and she reacts with hurt or rage, or both. How to reconcile?
Most of us need time to recover our balance, to get perspective, and to understand our emotions. A wise priest once told me, "Time heals all wounds,"and then added with a wry smile, "and wounds all heels."
The Joseph Saga, contained in the last chapters of the book of Genesis, is basically a story of forgiveness—of Joseph growing to understand that his behavior as the family favorite contributed in many ways to his fate—being abandoned in the wilderness by his jealous brothers and eventually sold into slavery in Egypt.
As time passes, Joseph changes; he becomes less self-absorbed and more responsive to others. Pharaoh recognizes his exceptional skill in leadership and administration, and makes Joseph governor of all the land.
When famine strikes Canaan, the home of Joseph’s family, his brothers are sent to Egypt to barter with Pharaoh's chief official for food distribution. That man is, of course, Joseph. The scene is set for Joseph to take revenge, at last.
At first, since the brothers don’t recognize him in his Eqyptian finery, Joseph plays a cat and mouse game with them, but then admits who he is and says, "Do not be angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life."
What happened to change Joseph from a narcissistic boy into a balanced, compassionate adult? In her book Gospel Medicine, Barbara Brown Taylor offers this insight:
He listened to his life and saw God’s fingerprints all over the place. When he looked at his life, he did not see a series of senseless tragedies. He saw a lighted path.
He listened to his life…perhaps that is the prerequisite for forgiveness. Paying close attention to the events of our lives gives us a priceless perspective. So, listen to your life.
Remember the people, places, dreams—as well as the hurt, pain and turmoil. See the hand of God working through it all, as Joseph did. This takes time, and attention, but sets us firmly in the path toward forgiveness—of ourselves, and others.
Help us, O God, in the midst of hurt and anger, to see your healing hand at work in our lives, and in the lives of others. Amen.
Copyright © 2010 Margaret Jones.