The ten brothers traveled together to collect the grain from the neighboring country that seems to have plenty. Egypt had plenty of grain stored. That’s because they had a wise man as their governor who planned for the future. He knew through divine knowledge what was coming their way, and so he prepared the nation for it.
The brothers who traveled together to Egypt had a great time on their way. Because when brothers live in unity, there is peace, prosperity, and love. For the sons of Jacob, what awaited them in Egypt was much more than what they had imagined.
Joseph, the Governor of Egypt, was paying attention to all who walked through the doors of their halls. He had a responsibility to keep the blessings going. Joseph listened to his inner voice to guide the Pharaoh so that his world will not go into famine. He also wanted to protect the produce, care for the people, do justice, and show mercy to those who showed up at their doors. In a way living the rule of Micah 6: 8
O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God
Something incredible to remember at this time was the absolute welcome Egyptians gave to all who came to them for food and security.
We are in a world that is fragmented by wars, terrorism, migration, and refugees. Every continent today is suffering from these kinds of human tragedies caused by human greed. Every nation on earth is affected by the suffering of one kind or another created by mankind. People flee from one place to another for the safety of their loved ones — all stemming from one thing, greed with un-forgiveness.
In this context, what happened in Egypt thousands of years ago, at the time of Joseph, is eye-opening. Joseph opened the borders, shared the wealth, and made themselves available to the needs of anyone who came through their doors.
Our world could learn a lesson or two from the days of famine in Egypt at the time of Joseph. But then that’s not the only lesson we can learn, and that’s where the story of Joseph and his brothers become even more fascinating and compelling.
The people of Egypt and their Pharaoh were wise in their listening to the slave in prison, Joseph.
They were wise in their savings directed by this man.
They were wise in their spending directed by this immigrant.
They were wise in showing dignity to human beings regardless.
So when the brothers walked into the area where the grain was being distributed, Joseph saw them. He recognized them. His heart leaped with joy, anxiety, and sheer wonder at the ways of God. He never expected to see his brothers, who sold him to slavery, to be standing in life to collect their food. He never expected to be the one standing in the place he was, the governor of the land, to dispense mercy. He had every reason to hate, punish, and retaliate against his brothers. Because they deserved every bit of retribution from Joseph for what they did to him, they, his own flesh and blood, sold him into slavery. But in reality, it was God who bought Joseph into slavery so that God can bring him into freedom. It was freedom not just for Joseph but for the entire nation of Israel. Joseph knew this blessing of God, and now it was his turn to do the same. It’s worth reading the story of Joseph and his brothers in the chapters of Genesis 42-45. The unfolding of this story in these chapters shows how mysterious and powerful is God’s ways.
Through tragedy and terror, God still rules the roost.
In this story, what we find is this powerful image of God interacting with human hearts in such a way that brings about awareness, acceptance, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.
There is something powerful Joseph does without talking much about it. He hugs them and kisses them. He cries. He weeps with joy and love. His tears were not tears of sadness or anger. His eyes were filled with gratefulness rather than revenge. Even though his brothers sold him, Joseph’s actions were to restore wholeness beyond the events of the day. His actions were pointing to one thing. Forgiveness. I forgive you was the meaning of his hugs, kisses, weeping, laughing, and eating together. Several gestures for one emotion. Several ways of saying I forgive. It is not in words, but actions; the best, easy, simple, powerful way to say, “I forgive you.”
On 8/8/88, August 8 in 1988, I was in a big kitchen in a monastery in Kerala, India cutting vegetables for the big lunch we were preparing. The lunch was for the reception to be held after the funeral of one of our priests, a great man, Fr. Claude. He was the Deputy General for the English speaking world in the Capuchin Order. He died that morning, and people were flowing into the chapel where his body was laid. In the Capuchin Order, the death of a friar was also a day of grand celebration because it was the birth of a saint in heaven. I remember this day because of two reasons, one of course for the death, second for what I did that day.
As I was cutting the vegetables, in the corner of my eyes, I saw Fr. Thomas, who did not quite like me. I knew it, and there were many things that can be said for the reason why he did not care for me. Even though I did not do anything to him in particular, his blessing and forgiveness were necessary for me to move forward in my spiritual journey. I needed to bless and forgive him in return, as well. So when I saw him standing behind me getting a cup of coffee, I approached him to ask for his forgiveness. As I was approaching him, I saw fear in his eyes. I did not understand why? Then I realized I had a knife in my hand. I dropped the knife on the floor immediately and walked towards him. As I got to him, I knelt on the kitchen floor and asked for his blessing. For what he did to me, that’s all I could do the best way to show that I forgave him.
He lifted me up off the floor and hugged me tightly. He said, “Jos, I bless you. You will be a blessing to the world.” If I can be honest, that was the best revenge I could have ever had against someone that is to help them bless me. “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this, you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12: 20.
When someone does something against you, our temptation is to return the favor in the same way but twice more. It is easy to pay evil with evil. The reaction is more natural than a response. It is hard to be kind to those who harm you. One needs to train oneself to be responsive than reactive. Reactive people destroy oneself and the other. But when we learn to response we will give life. Hear what Paul says to the Romans.
“Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”.” Romans 12: 16-19 MSG
When Isaac had his two sons, Esau and Jacob, like any parent in the world, it was a day of celebration. Parents had great dreams and hopes for the future of their two boys. They did not know what was in store for them other than they would protect and provide for whatever they needed. They hoped for those two boys to grow up healthy, happy, and watching for the back of each other. Never, I am sure, they thought these two boys would end up where they did. Of course, their mother played a part in their ultimate destiny. Brothers in disarray are the last thing a parent ever would want for their children.
Everybody made a mistake in the story. That’s the best part of the story. Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and Jacob, the whole little family, made mistakes after mistakes. No-one in the story is a saint. But God turns the wheel here and opens possibilities through it. He moves the blemishes into blessings. That’s where we find responses are more powerful than reactions. God always responds and do not react. That’s why we can not catch God in revenge, evil, or retaliation. He acts out of love and not out of spite.
Jacob was afraid of Esau. Jacob had every reason under the sun to be scared of him. Because he stole the birthright and the father’s blessing that was meant for Esau from him. Esau lost his future and his security because of it.
So when Jacob met Esau towards him with his 400 men, he was afraid. He was terrified that it was the end of the day for him. He regrouped and did everything to protect his family, his belongings, and himself. All of a sudden, you see how humble Jacob became. He called his brother “my lord” and introduced to him his children and family.
But Esau, on the other had already let go of all the animosity he may have had one time towards Jacob for everything that was done to him. Esau was not ready to be bogged down by what Jacob did. Instead fly light by letting go of hurts, fears, and anger. He ran to Jacob and hugged his neck, kissed him, and danced with his nieces and nephews. Genesis: 33
Someone once told me unforgiveness is like you taking the poison yourself and waiting for your enemy to die. Not being able to forgive another is equal to killing oneself. Because the one you are to forgive doesn’t know what all things are going on in you. Your anger may be eating you alive. Your fear may be sucking the life out of you. But the one to be forgiven has no clue about it. So he or she goes about in his or her merry way, which makes you even angrier. That adds to illness in you. You burn with anger, revenge, and evil intentions, which contaminates your heart.
Yesterday is the past. Today is present. The future is tomorrow. You can do something about today. That’s all the control you have. The past is purely a memory that you only have access to in your mind. That’s where hurts of all kinds reside. That’s the realm that needs forgiveness and letting go. The only one with access and control of what is gone is God. The future is simply a hope only God has access to. Therefore, holding onto what you don’t have control over is a pure waste of time and energy. Day dreaming without doing something about the future is equally foolish. Whatever needs to happen for the past or for the future, needs to happen in the present. What happens now, can change the effects of the past and the future in miraculous ways.
In the Old Testament, there is a story of a guy named Adonijah, who was terrified of Solomon. He had every reason to be terrified of him because of the way he felt about King Solomon. The king knew of his feelings towards him as well. But the king did not want to waste his energy or time worrying about tomorrow. After all, he is the king, and he can do whatever he wants to whenever he wanted to. So, King Solomon leaves the future to the future and let go of the man who had thrown himself to the altar. Solomon responded to those who were afraid around him, “If he proves to be a worthy man, not one of his hairs shall fall to the ground; but if wickedness is found in him, he shall die.” 1 Kings 1:52-53. Then King Solomon sent to have him brought down from the altar. He came to do obeisance to King Solomon; and Solomon said to him, “Go home.”
When I think forgiveness, this is my favorite phrase. Go home and get a life. There is no reason to waste your time on all the things you could do to someone who has mistreated you. But I like this simple command from King Solomon, who tells Adonijah, “go home.”
This is what Joseph does to his brothers. He hugged their neck and told them to go home and get a life. And when they return to bring their youngest brother to them. He wanted to see him.
When Esau met Jacob, that’s what he does to him as well. Go home, Jacob, and get a life. Don’t waste your time in fear of me doing something to you because I don’t have time for it.
Jesus tells the same to the woman caught in adultery, go home.
He says to Matthew, come home, live life with me.
To the paralytic, he says, pick up and go home, live life.
To Zacchaeus, he says, take me home and dine with me.
To the man crucified on his right side, Jesus says, you will be home with me from this forward.
To those who crucified Him, Jesus said, Father, welcome them home any day they are ready. Forgive their sins and offenses. Forgive their ignorance. Father, do not abandon them in this land of exile. They belong to you and to me, in our home, in heaven.
Divine forgiveness is this being home. It is about offering your heart to someone to be their home. The other person may not take it. But being home means being at peace within. It is telling someone out there whom you like and dislike to come home to a place of security and safety. Divine forgiveness invites people to settle and be home and live life.
© Fr. Jos Tharakan – 2019