Our God, the same God of Joseph and his brothers, is one who answers hate with love, and evil with mercy. The Good, and sometimes upsetting, News, is that this love and mercy is far greater than our capacity to hate, and is eternally stitched into every thread of creation, and calcified in the bones of every being.
Knowing that God’s mercy and forgiveness are much greater than our own human capacity to understand such things, what then is our calling as followers of such a compassionate God? Is it God’s will that we are to extend this same mercy to those who commit evil against us? In a word, yes. Yet our calling to be forgiving, just as God is, is a much more tangible and participatory event than we often consider or practice. The call to forgive, and our own desire to be forgiven, is truly about God’s mercy and love, but it is not about God, or us, being accepting of sin and evil.
If we read the story closely, we never hear Joseph say, “I forgive you” to his brothers, nor do we ever see them truly asking for forgiveness. It is apparent in his actions, that Joseph has shown mercy to his brothers, and that by the goodness of God their family has been sustained, yet Joseph does not say to them, “that time you sold me into slavery, don’t worry about it, it’s water under the bridge.” The brother’s act of wickedness had real and lasting effects on Joseph and nothing will ever give him the chance to regain the time he lost with his family. In fact, there is still great pain on all sides as evidenced by the weeping of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph has forgiven his brothers, at least as his relationship with God and with his father Jacob is concerned. Yet, if his brothers would like to hear Joseph say he forgives them, a long and painful conversation in which they share with him the pain of the moment when everything changed would seem to be in order.
Paul Simon's 10th Anniversary Tribute.
Our calling to forgive, especially on a day such as this, is just as complex as Joseph’s story. It is above all, a calling to act out of love and mercy towards all who have done us harm and also all who may want to do us harm. On the other hand, our calling to forgive is not a calling to give permission to others to do us harm, nor is it a calling to “wipe the slate clean” and start over. Rather, it is a calling to destroy the evilness of this world through the righteousness of our own lives, not for our own sake, but for the sake of those who would do us harm. Our calling to forgive is to forgive in the same way that the God of Joseph forgives, a calling that we see and have seen manifested in the person of Jesus Christ. Our calling to forgive is a calling to faith in Christ and a calling to trust that Christ’s death on the cross is the image of strength and love that has the power to, and in fact has, destroyed evil. Our calling to forgive, is a calling to go and do likewise.