In church today we heard probably the most important lesson in all of Christianity. It is also the most important lesson in all of humanity. It is the lesson of forgiveness.
Our scripture reading for the day was Genesis 50:15-21:
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father. ” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.
His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.
But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children. ” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
When you consider all that Joseph endured all because his brothers were jealous of him and sold him as a slave to a passing group of Ishmaelites on their way to Egypt, he certainly had good reason to hold a grudge. If anyone had good reason to pay back the wrong that had been done to him, it was Joseph.
But he didn’t. Instead he forgave his brothers. He looked at the bigger picture and saw that although they had intended him harm, God had used what they did to accomplish a greater good.
If Joseph had stayed in Canaan as the favored son of his father Jacob, there would have been no one in Egypt to interpret Pharaoh’s dream of the coming famine. There would have been no one to put into place the plan of storing away enough food during the seven years of plenty to survive the seven years of famine. Not only the people of Egypt, but also those of all the surrounding nations, would have suffered great loss during the drought.
Often it is difficult for us to see the big picture when someone hurts us, to see how God could possibly use what another intends to harm us and turn it to good. It is difficult to forgive, especially when it is clear that the person who has wronged us intended to harm us.
But as our pastor pointed out this morning, scripture doesn’t give us an out. Jesus said, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV).
This seems like a harsh and unfair command. But our Heavenly Father requires us to forgive because He knows that the poison of anger and unforgiveness will kill our soul just as cyanide will surely kill our body.
If we desire to live, to truly live, then we must forgive. We must trust that God will use whatever comes our way for the greater good. We may not enjoy the benefit of seeing that good, as Joseph did, but still we must have faith that forgiveness is the better path.