Genesis 45:1-15; Luke 6:35
Love your enemy.
Do good to them.
Expect nothing in return.
That hardly seems unreasonable. In my younger and wiser years I preached, or more correctly I lectured, on the Godly expectation of turning the cheek to our most mortal enemies. Using history as my witness I would point out we fought two world wars against the Germans and now they are one of our staunchest allies. I would ask how many drive Japanese automobiles. I would note that most of our phones and TV’s are probably made in China. I would finish by reminding you that folks in Washington are suggesting we now have more in common with the Russians than the Canadians. My goodness how the world turns. So love your enemies. Tomorrow they might be your best friend.
But what if you have been harmed by someone you love?
How do you continue to love them?
How do you do good to them?
How do you forgive them?
How can you expect nothing in return?
Even Jesus knew how much harder it is to forgive someone you love. Twenty years ago I probably had a great sermon on that subject. But like I said, I was much wiser then. Today, all I dare do is share a story.
Once there was a young man possessed by dreams who had the gall to share them. Those dreams became the genesis of ambition and jealousy, love and hate, even glory and spite. The young man’s name was Joseph. He was the eleventh of twelve sons and all his older brothers knew the dreamer was the favorite of the father.
Decked out in a beautiful robe given by his adoring dad the dreamer proclaims one day his brothers will bow down before him and declare him to be their Lord. Joseph is seventeen. Judah is close to 30. It has been seventeen years since the eldest heard a tender word from his father. Now the runt was coming of age and demanding the keys to the kingdom. Knowing the father would never turn down Joseph’s request, the eldest acted. He knew the best way to squelch a dream was by making it a nightmare.
A scheme was created. The dreamer was invited to join his elders in the field. Once beyond the protection of his father, Joseph is stripped, gagged and thrown into a pit. The older brothers sell Joseph to slavers then complete the ruse by dipping the dreamers coat into the blood of an animal. The soiled garment is offered to the father as proof of death. In reflecting on this story Elie Wiesel comments, “When brothers become enemies, God refuses to participate and becomes only a spectator.”
Joseph was taken to Egypt where he is purchased by an officer of Pharaoh. He becomes Potiphar’s most trusted slave until Joseph’s good looks placed the dreamer in a compromising situation. Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce the young Hebrew but Joseph rebukes her advances. Lady Chatterley claimed Joseph insulted her and Potiphar has the boy thrown into prison. This chapter ends with the reader informed that, “God was with Joseph and made Joseph favorable in the eye’s of the chief jailer.”
Once again the dreamer begins to dream. For some the dreams predict life, for others death. The dreamer is recognized as one who speaks the truth regardless of the consequences. Joseph is brought before Pharaoh where he predicts seven years of plenty and seven of draught. Believing the foreigner, Pharaoh puts Joseph in charge of grain collection and distribution. The dreamer is now 30.
Seven years later a famine entered the whole region. The children of Jacob fear they will not survive. The eldest, Judah, addresses his father. “If we stay here we will die.” Jacob responds, “If we go to Egypt we will be enslaved.” Judah counters, “Better to live as a slave than die free.” Jacob, no longer trusting Judah said, “Go to Egypt but leave Benjamin with me.”
The ten older brothers of the dreamer head south, never suspecting who they will encounter. Even the dreamer had not imagined this scenario. Joseph had been deserted by his original family. Now he is married to an Egyptian woman and has two sons. His only links to the past are memories of his father and his love for his youngest brother Benjamin.
Judah and the brothers arrive. Joseph immediately recognizes them and realizes that Jacob and Benjamin are absent. As the plot thickens, there is neither love nor forgiveness in the heart of Joseph. Not realizing it is Joseph who stands before them, the brothers are at a huge disadvantage. The Egyptian inquires about their family. The brothers’ tell of their father and the younger brother at home. Most of us would have screamed, “What about the brother you nearly killed and sold into slavery?” But not Joseph. He has waited too long time to misplay this hand. He demanded the brothers prove they are telling the truth by bringing the younger brother to Egypt.
Benjamin arrives, the grain is given, silver is planted in Benjamin’s bags, and Benjamin is arrested. Joseph is ruthless, cunning, and vengeful. He has forgotten nothing. He is willing to do anything to separate the younger brother from Jacob’s malignant family. After 20 years of dreaming and scheming Joseph is now ready to have his older brothers bow down in absolute fear. But the one thing Joseph had not counted on happens. Judah begs for mercy, not for himself but his father. He begs to be allowed to take the place of Benjamin.
Joseph had not anticipated compassion from this brother he hated. Joseph had been dead to his family for twenty years. He could not believe the events of the past few days. He had the power to destroy Judah with a single word. With a simple nod Judah and the other brothers could have been sent to the very prison that had been Joseph’s earlier home. But Judah, the source of all Joseph’s pain begs, “Don’t break my father’s heart.”
Joseph, no longer able to control himself, broke down and cried. Were they tears of pain, or relief, or shame that he could not finish the revenge so beautifully planned? Judah was in the crosshairs and Joseph could not finish the execution. And so he whispered, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?”
Many a sermon has been preached declaring the story of Joseph as proof that God is always in control, always finding a way where no way seems possible. Even Joseph confesses, “It wasn’t your fault. God sent me here to preserve life.” Maybe Joseph believed what he said. Maybe he was just giving his brothers a break. Or maybe Wiesel was right, “In family quarrels God remains a spectator.”
All I know is how the story ends. Judah is tolerated without expectations. The entire family moves to Egypt. One day Joseph and Yahweh are forgotten. The next morning the sons and daughters of Judah and Joseph wake up as slaves. The Egyptian exile finds its beginning in the disruptive jealousy of men who were brothers. Only then does Yahweh move from the bleachers to the playing field.
The Book of Genesis serves to remind its readers of three central themes found throughout The Bible. The parables before the story of Abraham remind us that our creating God is also a God who restores both the brokenness of creation and humankind. Second, the stories of Abraham establish that we and God are in a binding covenant. Third, Jacob and his children test that promise. The final stories of Genesis ask two critical questions. How did the children of Jacob get to Egypt? Will Yahweh follow such a dysfunctional family into such a land of darkness?
It is amazing how these stories mimic the relationships between brother and sisters, friends and family. They remind us that while we frequently claim God as our champion in our tragic battles, God seldom takes a side. Yet through a grace beyond our understanding, God is always there to help us find our way home. To God be the Glory, Amen.