Also, the Christian faith entails a radical change in life. After all, your God has saved you from sin, death, and hell through your Lord Jesus Christ. So what could be more radical than blessing those who persecute you? What could be more radical than loving your enemies? What could be more radical than forgiving those who wrong you?
Today’s Old Testament reading gives us a true, historical example of this radical, new Christian life. In this story of Joseph forgiving his brothers we have a story of suffering forgiveness. And it really is amazing how God gives us exactly what we need to hear, especially after Friday’s Supreme Court ruling—or we should say, “fiat”—on same-sex marriage.
Joseph, this great man of God, practiced suffering forgiveness. After he had suffered ill-will from his ill-mannered brothers, he practiced forgiveness. After suffering in slavery, false accusation, and prison, he practiced forgiveness. Let’s fill in the story.
Joseph was only 17 years old when his brothers sold him into slavery. They were jealous that he was daddy’s favorite. They especially despised him when he dreamed about how the whole family would bow down to him. Once in slavery, he lived in Potiphar’s house, because he was the head slave. But then he suffered misfortune again. Potiphar’s wife tried getting Joseph into bed with her. When he nobly resisted temptation, she cried sexual harassment. So off to prison for Joseph. After a few years there, 30-year old Joseph was summoned to interpret Pharaoh’s disturbing dreams. God would send 7 years of bounty followed by 7 years of famine. And, by God’s grace and favor, Pharaoh appointed Joseph to prepare for the famine. Joseph suffered slavery, false accusation, and prison. But later he was exalted to the second highest office in all Egypt.
Then, when Joseph was about 39, his brothers came to Egypt to buy food to take back home—famine relief for God’s people. After a lengthy charade, Joseph saw evidence that his brothers were repentant over selling their younger brother into slavery 22 years earlier. Then Joseph revealed himself to his brothers and forgave them. Soon after, father Jacob relocated to Egypt to live under the providing hand of Joseph. Then, 17 years later, Jacob died. And then comes our reading.
“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.’” After 39 years, their sin of selling Joseph and counting him dead was still tormenting them. Even 17 years after Joseph explicitly forgave them—pronounced absolution to them—after 17 years of living with Joseph’s great kindness and love, they still wrestled with their guilt and shame.
And the same is true for us. Our sins plague us—often weeks, months, even years after the fact. Even after we receive absolution for our specific sins, the consequences and constant reminders may very well plague us. There is no peace, no rest, no quiet conscience for sinners except through faith alone—faith that looks to God’s words of mercy and forgiveness.
“So they sent a message to Joseph saying, ‘Your father gave this command before he died, “Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now, please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’” We don’t have any record of Jacob giving such instructions—maybe he did; maybe he didn’t. But it does seem that the brothers wanted to force Joseph’s hand to pardon them. The brothers don’t doubt that God forgives them. But they do question if their brother, Joseph, forgives them.
That’s sin for you. That’s your sin for you. We like to rely on God’s Law, even for Gospel pardon. We don’t doubt God’s forgiveness for us. But we certainly don’t trust each other’s forgiveness. Like Joseph’s brothers, we look with jaded eyes upon the pardon and acts of kindness from brothers and sisters in Christ. And our mistrust leads to trying to dictate, or legislate, each other’s actions.
At the same time, Joseph’s guilt-ridden brothers give us a great Biblical truth. Our servanthood to God also means servanthood to each other. To love God means to love the people He puts in our lives. To serve Him means to serve them, especially by forgiving them.
“Joseph wept when they spoke to him.” Surely, he thought, 17 years of showing them his pardon would speak for itself. But even in forgiving his brothers, Joseph suffered. He suffered forgiveness. He forgave them. Period. No questions asked. No forcing them to make promises never to hurt him again. Joseph could very well have been hurt again by his brothers. That didn’t matter. He forgave them anyway. He suffered forgiveness. That is, he let forgiveness happen. He let forgiveness, not self-protection, reign supreme. And now, 17 years after he had first absolved them, he had the privilege of absolving them again.
So why did he weep? Simply because he knew his brothers did not trust his forgiveness. What was the solution? Did he chew them out for not trusting him? No. He forgave them again. Joseph is a good example for us. It really doesn’t matter how much someone offends you or hurts you. You have the God-given privilege of forgiving over and over and over—seventy times seven, as Jesus said.
Joseph preached a wonderfully comforting sermon to his brothers…and to us. “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear.” See how the forgiving flows freely from Joseph to his brothers. Was Joseph in the place of God? When it came to revenge, no. It is God’s place to avenge, to repay, for wrongs done. Ah, but when it came to forgiveness, yes, Joseph was in the place of God. He practiced and lived out the forgiveness that God had first given him. Joseph overcame his brothers’ evil with the good of forgiveness. So it is for us.
St. Paul said it this way: “bearing with one another and if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col. 3:13). Jesus said it this way: “Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:37-38). Sure people may hurt you. They may hurt you frequently or repeatedly. They may step on your feelings, your ideas, your plans. They may do it intentionally or by accident. But one thing always stays the same. The Christian life is lived in suffering forgiveness—that is, in letting forgiveness, and nothing else, rule the day.
Here’s another way Joseph is a good picture, or role model, for us. Just as Joseph endured his exile in slavery and prison, we too are more and more living in exile in this foreign land. With Friday’s Supreme Court ruling and fiat, we must realize that we Christians are the exiles. We may even end up in prison for holding firm to God’s Truth.
But before we get too worked up about same-sex marriage, let’s remember that heterosexuals have also been doing a pretty good job of destroying marriage themselves. The Supreme Court has only affirmed the inevitable. What should the Church do in response to this Supreme Court fiat? What her Lord always calls her to do: repent. Just because something becomes legal in all 50 states, that does not make it right or godly. But we can repent, just as Joseph did in his exile.
Repent of your own sexual sins, whether they be heterosexual or homosexual, whether they be adultery, fornication, pornography, self-pleasure, or just that so-called “innocent look.” Repent of taking such sins so lightly, for being afraid to confront them in yourself or in people around you.
And just in case you’re wondering how that whole “Judge not, and you will not be judged” thing fits in: Jesus is not advocating for a “live and let live” approach to life in general or to such sins as plague us today. Listen to how Dr. Jeff Gibbs explains this same saying in Matthew’s Gospel:
“Jesus takes in hand an important matter, namely, the danger that a disciple with an arrogant spirit, who is blind to his own personal faults and failings, may pass judgment on a fellow disciple or even reject him. Jesus is not forbidding all judgments with regard to our brothers and sisters, but a hypocritical kind of judging. Moreover, his disciples certainly are to proclaim God’s Word of Law and Gospel to all people, and God’s Law rightfully accuses and judges sinners. Christians must proclaim God’s Word if they are to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ int he world.
“Here, however, Jesus is speaking primarily to relationships between fellow Christians, as shown by his repeated use of the term ‘brother’. That Jesus has in mind an attitude in which a person is blind to his own shortcomings and failings is made clear by the picture of a beam stuck in one’s eye.” (Matthew 1:1-11:1, 369)
Joseph is more than a good picture for us. He is an even better picture of Jesus. Joseph’s life is very much like Jesus’ life. Joseph descended in suffering, slavery, humiliation, and shame. Our Lord Jesus descended to us. He emptied Himself and took on the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even the shameful death on the cross. Who sold Him into this slavery and humiliation? We did; we poor sinners. But just like Joseph before Him, Jesus was also exalted to reign supreme. He sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty. And we bow before Him in the famine called our sin, our hard hearts, our unwillingness to forgive each other. And what does our Lord Jesus do? He forgives you. He says, “Don’t be afraid, I AM in the place of God; I AM your God. I came to save many lives. And yours is among them.” And Jesus, your Brother, tells you what Joseph told his brothers: “So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Certainly good news for troubled consciences! Jesus suffers forgiveness for you. Jesus lets forgiveness rule the day, every day, for you.
So now, what will you do with that forgiveness, that absolution, you have just heard? First, you may trust it. You may stake all your hopes and dreams on it. Second, you may use that forgiveness to forgive one another. You see, only when Jesus stops forgiving you may you stop forgiving your neighbor. And, by the way, Jesus will never stop forgiving you! In fact, He orders His Church so that we may daily receive His forgiveness of sins through the Word and Sacraments. He arranges a wonderful delivery system of the Gospel proclaimed, Holy Baptism splashed upon you, Holy Absolution spoken into your ears, and Holy Supper placed into your mouth. He does all of this to comfort you and speak kindly to you.
So when you find yourself not forgiving your brother or sister in Christ, you may confess that sin. Christ promises to forgive. That way, you, along with Joseph and Jesus, are free to suffer forgiveness, to let forgiveness rule the day. Amen.