–By Elizabeth Ahlman
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:15-21 ESV).
As I was considering which text from last week’s 1-year-lectionary to choose, I was telling my mom what they were: “The Genesis passage where Joseph forgives his brothers,” I said. Immediately my mom said,
“Whenever I think of that one, I just think, how amazing it is that even after all that had been done to Joseph, and all that had happened, he never got angry. Not when his brothers betrayed him, not when he helped the man who got out of prison and he forgot about him for so long. And he never held it against God.”
I agree. It is amazing. Joseph’s brothers always hated him and treated him with contempt. They meant to kill him, but one brother advocated that they take a somewhat kinder tack, so instead they threw him into a pit, dipped his robe in blood, told their father he was dead, and sold him to slave drivers. Then, Joseph served honorably as a slave, but was thrown in prison because of his owner’s lustful, adulterous wife, though he did no wrong. Once in prison, he helped those around him, but was forgotten by them for years. Insult, injury, devastating betrayals all just kept coming and coming for Joseph. Yet he forgave his brothers and trusted in the Lord’s plan: “God meant it for good…to bring it about that many people should be kept alive.”
For us, too, our enemies often shove us to the ground, push us to despair, and then kick us when we’re down. Sin, the devil, and this cruel and evil world take one pot shot at us after another. Financial strain, sickness, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, moving away from your support system, strain in your marriage, struggles with our children, trouble at school, trouble at work, mocking from the world for what we believe…all that and then, because why not pile on ONE MORE THING?…the car breaks down or the fridge stops running or the dishwasher goes on the fritz. And I don’t know about you, but I am not so calm as Joseph. I get angry at everybody, including God. I wallow in that moment in time and have a hard time believing that any of it is “meant for good.”
That’s where Jesus comes in. Sin, the devil and this cruel world threw everything they had at Jesus. From His family not understanding His true identity, to accusations that He was of the devil, to attempts to throw Him off a cliff, to mocking, to betrayal, false accusation, scourging, crucifixion and abandonment by God. Jesus, like Joseph, trusted in Yahweh despite all that the world, the devil, our sins, and yes, even Yahweh Himself, laid on Him. If there is anyone who can say “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive,” it’s Jesus. The world, the devil, the Pharisees, Judas, the Chief Priests — they all meant evil against Jesus. And they thought they had accomplished it. But what they meant for evil — Jesus’ death — God meant for good. Jesus’ death — His wrestling with sin, death, the devil, the world and even the righteous punishment of Yahweh Himself — became our good. It brought it about that many people should be kept alive. Me, you, our children, our loved ones who have died in the Lord, we will all be kept alive because of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
So no matter what we face, no matter what the world, the devil, and our own sins throw at us, we too can rejoice that God will bring all things together for our good. It may not happen today or tomorrow or even tangibly in this world, but it is the sure and certain reality of we who are baptized children of God. They can take all that we have — house, home, loved ones, life itself — but they can never triumph over us. The final outcome is assured: life in His name, joy, peace, wholeness, resurrection. All good things for the sake of the One who took on all that is evil in the world and gave all that is good to us.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus Christ, You knew that Yahweh meant all things for good and so You endured the punishment we deserved; grant that we may ever trust in the promise of everlasting life and the resurrection and remember that God works all things to good for Your sake, so that we may proclaim Your goodness in all circumstances; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.