So you wake up expecting an ordinary day, when all of the sudden……
I can’t imagine the emotion of Joseph’s day. Seeing his brothers for the first time in more than twenty years. Hearing them talk about what they had done to him…like it happened yesterday.
He is confronted with a tangible reminder of that horrible day; the day he pleaded for his life but his brothers sold him anyway. We don’t hear Joseph’s exact thoughts, but his actions make it clear that he is incredibly conflicted. His prominent position allows him to take revenge severely and swiftly…if he chooses. But he doesn’t. Instead, he toys with them a bit; questioning them harshly, putting them in prison for a few days, and holding Simeon captive indefinitely. At the same time though, he returns the silver they paid for the grain and even donates additional provisions for their journey home.
While Joseph tries to reconcile everything in his own mind, his brothers are confronted with a less-tangible reminder of the horrible day they sold him. But why? Why does Joseph’s name even come up? They don’t recognize him. Nobody else in the room says anything about him. But they are instantly panicked by the guilt of what they did…twenty years ago. Twenty years! This quick, unprompted trip down memory lane is a perfect picture of the power of guilt. It isn’t an emotion that lessens with time. It’s like mold. The longer it sits, the more disgusting it gets.
It was hard for me to stop reading today. I wanted to keep going…to enjoy the rest of the story. But here’s the thing. Whether we have Joseph’s perspective or his brother’s (and we all experience both), this chapter is about not moving on until we deal with the past.
If we’re Joseph, we deal with it by viewing the meanness of others through a God-fearing lens. (vs.18) If Joseph had only focused on the injustice and his right to repay evil for evil, the rest of the story would be quite different. Instead, he reminds himself – by telling his brothers – that he fears God. He takes a pause. Responds carefully. And even shows mercy by sending them home with free grain and supplies. When we pause and recognize God’s place in our problem, we’re characterized by calm…not chaos.
If we’re one of Joseph’s brothers, we should deal with our own meanness through the same God-fearing lens. Instead of harboring guilt and shame for years – allowing it to grow and become even more disgusting – we need to pause. Sincerely repent. And move on, with a resolve to live in way that pleases God. We can’t stuff the toothpaste back in the tube. When we do or say sinful things, it’s done. And it’s our mess to clean up.
Nothing Joseph’s brothers could say would change what had been done. They obviously felt desperately guilty for their actions…but that’s not the same thing as being repentant. Guilt, without Godly repentance, is just guilt. Ugly, depressing, relationship-breaking…guilt. But when we confess our sin, with genuine humility and a desperate desire to make things right, there is healing. Beautiful, life-giving, relationship-mending…healing.
So which do they choose? As Paul Harvey says, tune in tomorrow for the rest of the story.