“Forgive each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
This scripture passage attributed to St. Paul tells us that he made forgiveness a priority for the churches he planted. Maybe it was the way that the early disciples heard Jesus say, “Forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34). Or maybe St. Paul understood that no group of people would be able to survive each other if they held onto the hurts they had received from one another. Maybe to him it was common sense. Or maybe he got how forgiveness was at the root of Christianity. That is why I want to take a look at the first person credited with forgiveness in the Old Testament: Joseph son of Jacob.
To be clear Joseph was precocious, annoying and very irritating. He kept on having dreams that made him feel that he was better than his brothers. His father, Jacob, did not do anything to discourage his behavior. In fact he gave Joseph a special cloak that made him stand out even more. His brothers had enough of him. They soon planned to get rid of him by selling him into slavery. Ironically Joseph rose from being a powerless slave to the Pharoah’s right hand man.
Years later a severe drought encompassed the land that Joseph’s family was living. They heard that Egypt had plenty of food to sell and trade. They traveled there and actually met with Joseph though they did not recognize him. Soon Joseph told them who he was, and the brothers were worried. They wondered, “what if Joseph holds a grudge against us? What if he decides to pay us back for all the evil we did to him?” (Genesis 50:15-20). But Joseph’s response was radical and unexpected. He said, “Do not be afraid! I cannot take God’s place. Even though you planned evil against me, God planned for good to come out of it. This was to keep many people alive, as he is doing now. Do not be afraid! I will provide for you and your children!” Not only does Joseph not put himself in the position of judge and jury but he shows that forgiveness is possible.
The story of Joseph encourages us too to believe that forgiveness is indeed possible. That despite the bad things that happened, they can be used by God. I want you to take a moment and consider who it is that you need to forgive. Maybe you need to forgive yourself. Maybe you feel that you have done or said something that you think is unforgivable, or maybe you lead a life up until this point that you just know God cannot accept. Or maybe you need to forgive someone else who has done you wrong, who has hurt you in some way, whether it is emotionally, mentally, spiritually or physically that still clings to you and holds you back. I want you to pray that God will help you to forgive that person. Pray to God to help you take the steps needed to forgive them because God has forgiven you.
Forgiving does not mean forgetting, but will give us the gift of being able to let go of that baggage we are dragging around. It might not feel different right away but it matters for our healing. God forgave us and God has forgiven them, so we need to let go. For them and for us. Forgiving someone means that we become a bit more like Jesus every time we do it. God, forgive us, for we do not always know what we are doing.