Surprised by Mercy
Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence. … Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.
- Genesis 45:3, 14-15
In an emotional scene, Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers. The brother they despised and sold into slavery … that’s who’s in charge of Egypt and holds their destiny.
Their fearful response makes perfect sense. If they have wrestled with feelings of guilt over the decades because of what they did to Joseph, what sort of furious rage must he be feeling and experiencing? The brothers brace for the impact.
But what they receive isn’t a slap or a shove but a hug and an embrace. Joseph’s dammed emotions break forth and he’s reduced to a weeping mess. Benjamin cries too. And everyone is reconciled.
Joseph’s mercy seems to surprise even him. He seemed prepared to run another round of torturous testing for his brothers. All his chess pieces were in motion and coordinated. But he couldn’t do it.
Everyone is surprised by mercy.
When we’ve done something wrong we might expect punishment or to sneak past unnoticed. We might think we can bully our way out of consequences or negotiate. We might wonder if we can’t steamroll the person we’ve wronged or just avoid them forever. But mercy cuts through all of this.
In mercy we’re help accountable for what we’ve done; the light shines on our fault. But the consequences pass over us. The one who has shown us mercy has made a choice. And we have a choice as well.
How will we respond to mercy? Will we accept it? Will we pass it along?