23 And as soon as he came to his brethren, they forthwith stript him of his outside coat, that was of divers colours:24 And cast him into an old pit, where there was no water. 25 And sitting down to eat bread, they saw some Ismaelites on their way coming from Galaad, with their camels, carrying spices, and balm, and myrrh to Egypt.
26 And Juda said to his brethren: What will it profit us to kill our brother, and conceal his blood? 27 It is better that he be sold to the Ismaelites, and that our hands be not defiled: for he is our brother and our flesh. His brethren agreed to his words. 28 And when the Madianite merchants passed by, they drew him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ismaelites, for twenty pieces of silver: and they led him into Egypt.
Joseph had good reason to be angry at his brothers. Not many would blame him if he decided to hold a grudge against them. They sold him into slavery for a few pieces of silver and told their father he’d been killed. Jacob grieved for his lost beloved son. And yet when they came to Egypt, hat in hand (so to speak), humbling themselves to ask foreigners for food so that their families might not starve, Joseph was unrecognizable to them. After all, they were speaking to the Pharaoh’s right hand man – what did that have to do with Joseph, who was a slave?
But after testing them to see that they had, indeed, changed, Joseph revealed his identity to them. He asked about their father, invited them to come live in Egypt under his protection, and embraced his brother Benjamin, whom he had never met. The brothers wept for joy and made plans to bring all of their families to Egypt.
One of my favorite scenes in Joseph, King of Dreams was the reunion scene between the children of Israel (Jacob). It’s full of emotion. But part of it also shows that Joseph struggled with forgiveness. It’s not clear if he truly did, but I can imagine that it was difficult. Yes, he was now second in charge in all of the Egyptian empire. True, he was wildly rich and had married. But when he saw his brothers, I’m sure that he was overwhelmed by emotion. Maybe he had flashbacks of being thrown down into the cistern and tied up as a slave. Maybe he could feel the chains again as he remembered his years in prison, serving a sentence for a crime he did not commit. Maybe he was still angry that they had gone home and lived all those years with their father.
But in the end, love won out. His love for his brothers was stronger than his anger, and he was able to forgive them completely.
Forgiveness is never easy. Sometimes the only way to do it is to lean on God and pray about it first. Sometimes we don’t fully mean the words when we say it, or they get caught in our throats before we can get them out. But we are called to forgive by Jesus, and we have stories in the Old Testament that show how much God wants us to forgive. Sometimes we get the feeling like our forgiveness towards another is a gift to them, but that’s not really how it works. Forgiveness is something that frees the forgiver. It lifts a weight from our souls – a weight that, very often, we don’t even realize is there.
I encourage you to forgive someone this Advent. If you feel like you can’t forgive them, pray and ask God to help you get to that point. He will help you, and someday you’ll get to a place where you can forgive that person. And that’s something that makes the soul sing for joy.
Meditation text and images © Christine Johnson