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Proper 19A 1st Reading

Genesis 50:15-21

Eric Verbovszky

Forgiveness, reconciliation, and God working evil into good⎯in only seven verses, these three themes are presented in powerful ways. As a result of Joseph voicing forgiveness, reconciliation between brothers is made final. Moreover, Joseph, from his wisdom and experience of a lifetime of exercising faith in God, states the reality of how God molded what was an evil act towards the good mission of God’s kingdom.

Joseph, after the death of his father Jacob, actually speaks words of forgiveness to his brothers. Questioning Joseph’s motives, it seems that his brothers probably thought that Joseph was showing love to them out of respect for their elder⎯their father. They say, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” Once Jacob died, the brothers seemed unsure of the authenticity of the previous actions of Joseph’s love. In a culture where memories are long and a measured vengeance was normal⎯i.e., an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth⎯it would have been a legitimate and expected concern on their part, especially considering Joseph’s position of power in Egypt. In reading Genesis 37, if it had not been for Rueben, and had they not seen the traveling caravan, his brothers would have killed Joseph and left his body to rot in the wilderness.

Yet Joseph weeps and says, “Don’t be afraid.” He further states, “I will provide for you and your children.” And Joseph reassures them. He has to convince them that he will not take vengeance! Joseph has a heart that has been forged through a long journey of faith with God. That faith sanctified his heart over the course of his lifetime, shaping it into a heart of God’s love, compassion, humility, grace, and wisdom. In addition to the conclusion of the family saga seen in this chapter, Joseph’s preceding actions towards his family also demonstrate a heart formed by God.

There are many times when people wonder if forgiveness has truly taken place. Voicing actual words of forgiveness and hope for a relationship brings healing. Moreover, it is clear that Joseph’s brothers, so many years later, struggled heavily with the guilt of what they had done, despite Joseph already showing them love when they first came to Egypt. Because they recognized that they were guilty for almost killing their brother and selling him as a slave, they knew that Joseph could legitimately and legally take judgment.

Church pews are filled with people who identify both with Joseph and with his brothers. There are people who have been hurt and people who have hurt others. Jesus brings healing to the wounds that are on both people’s hearts. Through the working of the Holy Spirit, Christ convicts those who have done wrong, bringing them to a point of repentance. Yet many of Christ’s children carry the weight of their guilt with them for what they have done; that guilt slowly eats away at their hearts. Even if someone who has been hurt has been healed and shows Christ’s love to the one who hurt them, it can take the actual voicing and reassuring of forgiveness before someone will be released of their guilt and experience further healing.

A good focus point for preaching these verses is to encourage congregants to be willing to speak words of forgiveness out loud. Pastors may even want those present during the sermon to actually say the words, “I forgive you.” Though it seems like a simple lesson, it is important to remind Christians of the real spiritual power that these words hold. People can have a difficult time actually vocalizing the words and a simple “repeat after me” exercise can help a person make progress. Additionally, Joseph’s reassurance and actions towards his brothers is a good example of how to elaborate and expound on what forgiveness entails.

If one is looking for a powerful, modern day example of what forgiveness and reconciliation look like, research Immaculee Ilibagiza’s story of surviving the Rwandan genocide. As well, there are countless other accounts of how forgiveness has concretely brought Christ’s kingdom into this world.

With words and actions paired towards clear forgiveness, new life comes. The fruit of forgiveness is reconciliation. Reconciliation will form a path for the future and build on the foundation of God’s kingdom in a person’s heart. For Joseph’s extended family, his words and actions towards his brothers set a foundation of God’s kingdom in each of their lives. Joseph promises to provide for the entire family⎯sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, etc.⎯in tangible ways. Joseph’s material provision is the physical imprint of God’s kingdom on this family. The Asbury Bible Commentary states that for this family, “Indeed, it is another beginning, truly a new genesis.” [1]

Romans 8:28 reads, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It is hard to understand the totality of how God takes something that was meant for evil and uses it to bring incredible blessings. People are made in God’s image, which means creative and logical thinking, using imaginations, and exercising minds as much as possible in order to learn about God’s truth and how he interacts with this world. However, the limited mind of the created creature is not meant to understand the entirety of the unlimited mind of the creature’s creator.

Though the world is fallen, and people’s hearts within this world are very much bent towards sin, knowing that God will ultimately bring good is not an excuse to commit evil or sin. Nor does it mean that genuine evil will never occur to those who follow Christ. However, in what is still the mystery of how God’s kingdom exactly intertwines with the the nature of the world in a fallen era, people must exercise faith and hope in the power and sovereignty of God to shape incredible good out of evil. Because God is able to foresee a path that no human eye can see, Christians must trust God in the midst of this world’s horrors.

From anyone’s perspective, Joseph was put in a hopeless situation. He was nearly murdered by his own family, yet God shaped his path so that he would eventually save one of the most recognized empires of ancient history from dying in famine. A Christian’s part in God’s shaping evil into goodness is to follow Joseph’s example: live faithfully regardless of the situation, and live in an attitude of forgiveness and love. This is the way that people will be able to powerfully participate in the hope of realizing God’s kingdom of goodness, reconciliation, and healing in this world.

[1] Asbury Bible Commentary (1992), accessed August 2, 2017, https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/asbury-bible-commentary/d-Josephs-dream-future.

About the Contributor

Associate Pastor

Eric Verbovszky

This Week's Sponsor:

Native American Christian Academy is a non-profit boarding school serving Kindergarten through 9th grade students from the Navajo, Apache, and Hopi reservations in Arizona and New Mexico. NACA is a 10% mission special through the church of the Nazarene and is supported by churches throughout the country. Please visit naca-az.org to learn how you can help NACA fulfill its mission to educate and disciple students for Christ.

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