When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?”
- Genesis 50:15
Receiving forgiveness can be just as difficult as actually forgiving. We may be fully and completely forgiven, but still carry around our own burden of guilt and shame from our bad behavior.
In today’s passage, we see that Joseph’s brothers have yet to fully accept the forgiveness Joseph offered them earlier. They trembled in fear when they first encountered Joseph in Egypt, but their fear subsided when Joseph wept and embraced them. They relocated from Canaan to Egypt and have been living near Joseph for over a decade by this point in the story. But they still aren’t settled.
Over the years they’ve told themselves that the forgiveness Joseph offered them wasn’t the real thing. They convinced themselves that Joseph’s forgiveness was only given to them for the sake of their father. When Jacob passed away, Joseph’s reasons for treating them with kindness would have died too.
There’s a scene at the end of The Godfather where Al Pacino’s mob boss character gets revenge on all of his father’s enemies after his father’s death. In the Bible, there’s a scene at the end of David’s life that hits similar notes. A Joseph-finally-gets-his-revenge ending to the saga we’ve been reading this fall would come with a certain satisfaction. But God had a better ending in mind.
Joseph’s brothers rightly perceive that Joseph’s decision to forgive them is an act of radical and surprising mercy. It seems too good to be true. We’re not surprised by their fear. And we can learn from it.
In our relationships with God we’re the recipients of his radical and surprising mercy. We’ve made so many mistakes in our lives and yet have received such wonderful love and acceptance from God through Jesus Christ. It seems too good to be true. Will he actually remain this merciful toward us forever?
Where in your life do you struggle to receive God’s mercy? Talk to him about that today. Ask him to help you trust in his mercy and enjoy his love.