How do we live as the people of God? How do we live with faith, hope and love?
Last week we reflected on turning our fear into love, so our fear does not justify hatred. We looked at the story of Joseph and his brothers selling him as a slave. This week we look again at that story, but this time we will go to 13 years later…
How does the story go in those 13 years? Well, Joseph goes to Egypt and is sold as a slave to Potiphar, who is a very very powerful man. Joseph is a very successful slave and he “found favour” with his master Potifar. Si much favour that he is put in charge of his master’s household. Potiphar’s wife takes a liking to young, handsome Joseph, but Joseph does not fall for her charms. In her anger at his rejection, she makes an accusation and as ever, the more powerful one gets their way and Joseph ends up in prison.
In prison Joseph is a model prisoner and given care of all the prisoners. While there 2 of his fellow prisoners have strange dreams and Joseph in interprets them and helps them to know that they will soon be released and be back in the service of the Pharoah. Then we jump years and discover the Pharaoh is having troubling dreams, and one of the ones that Jospeh was in prison with remembers Joseph and recommends him to the Pharoah. Joseph then interprets the Pharoah’s dreams wisely and foretells famine and the need to plan while there is a harvest of plenty and as a reward Joseph is made top official of the Pharaoh. In all, 13 years have gone by and Joseph is now 30.
The famine comes, just as Joseph said and the famine comes to every land. But Egypt had plenty because of Joseph’s wise planning and the bible tells us that all the world came to Egypt the buy grain. Among those who came are Joseph’s brothers, sent by their father to get grain. Joseph recognises them but does not let them he recognises them. They do not recognise Joseph – I imagine they think he is dead.
Joseph wishes to test his brothers, so accuses them of being spies. They tell him they are not and that they have been sent by their father to get grain. They also let on that they have another younger brother, and so keen to see how they treat this new little brother, Joseph demands that they go and get him, and puts one of the brothers in prison while the others go and get Benjemin, their little brother.
When the brothers get home, they tell their father Jacob that they need to take Benjeman back with them. He is very wary, remembering that he has lost one young son and fearing for this even younger one. But he finally agrees because they need to release the brother from prison and they need more grain, so the brothers go with Benjemin back to Joseph. When they arrive, Joseph is very hospitable. He still does not let on who he is, but he treats the brothers well and invites them to dine with him. When they are due to leave he hides a silver cup in Benjemin’s sack, and then sends his servants to chase the brothers and bring them back, demanding they empty their sacks so he can see who has stolen the cup. When it turns out to be in Benjeman’s sack, Joseph says he must stay there as a slave, but Judah, one of the brothers, steps up and pleads for Benjamin, saying Jospeh is to take him and let Benjeman return, for the sake of their father Jacob.
Then Joseph can hide no more and he tells his brother who he is. You can read it in Genesis chapter 45, verses 1-15.
This is, among other things, a story of reconciliation and forgiveness. Joseph has played with his brothers, and I imagine he’s played out his anger and hurt at what they did to him 13 years earlier. Forgiveness is certainly starting to happen, and the relationship is taking the fragile steps towards being renewed. But what a thing to have to forgive.
Forgiveness is one of the hard questions to living our faith, hope and love. How do we do it? How do we forgive? As we pray the Lord’s prayer, we pray that God will forgive us, for we know that we can forgive as God forgives, but can we really? It is a hard calling to live up to: how do we forgive some of the pains that are done to us?
To help us in this, and other questions of how we live as God’s people, we need to remember that it is not about getting it all sorted and all our questions answered, but rather it is about living out the questions that being the people of God brings up for us. So with forgiveness we need to turn to God and ask how do I forgive? And then live the question, and see what answers start to emerge. By living the question, we say that we believe that forgiveness is possible – even if we cannot see how.
The other side of the story of Joseph and his brothers is the story of the brothers being forgiven. After this initial encounter with Joseph the story goes on into a time of joy and sharing and storytelling. Jacab comes, and the family settle in Egypt. But when their father finally dies in chapter 50 on Genesis the brothers are left fearful: what if Joseph was only nice to us for the sake of our father> What if the truth is that he really bears a grudge and will now make us suffer, now that our father has gone? They know that Joseph has the power to destroy them as well as the forgive them. There is more talking to do, for the brothers to know they are forgiven.
Being forgiven is at times as hard as forgiving. We ask for forgiveness when we pray, and in our worship, I will often say “let us learn to forgive ourselves”. Living as people who are forgiven is another question we must live if we are to be on the journey of faith, hope and love with God. How do I live as a forgiven person? Forgiveness is not common in our world and if we can live as forgiven people, we will find new answers to the question of how we forgive.
Asking questions of God isn’t a sin. It’s actually really important, because when we ask questions of God about how we live as the people God asks us to be we start to discover who God knows we are and can be. We open ourselves up to the possibility of God working in our lives.
And remember these wise words, from the poet Rike: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
May God bless you as you live life’s questions with God this week.
Image: Joseph and his brothers Rosemarie Adcock (c. 2018)