Practicing the Art of Forgiveness - Luke 6:27-38
Updated: Dec 19, 2022
Forgiveness is an important theme that’s at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. Actually it’s at the heart of the entire Bible. The Old Testament lesson this morning is an excellent lesson on forgiveness. Joseph was one of the 12 sons of Jacob, and Jacob was the grandson of Abraham who wrestled with God and had his name changed to Israel. Jacob, aka Israel, had four wives and Joseph and his brother Benjamin were the sons of Jacob’s favorite wife Rachel. For a long time Joseph was the youngest, until Benjamin was born. And we are told that Joseph was his father’s favorite son. He gave Joseph a coat of many colors, and his older brothers were jealous. On top of that, Joseph told his brothers about a dream he had where they were all bundles of grain, and his brothers were bowing down to him. This made them even more mad. One day, when Joseph was a teenager, his brothers plotted to kill him. But the oldest, Rueben, convinced the others to throw Joseph in a well and planned to rescue him later. However when a caravan passed by going to Egypt, Judah convinced the other brothers that they should sell Joseph to them to be sold as a slave in Egypt.
After being a slave in Egypt for a while, Joseph wound up in prison after false accusations. In prison he interpreted dreams and this gift was eventually discovered by Pharaoh, who Joseph also helped interpret dreams for. Joseph became a trusted advisor to Pharaoh and used his gift of dream interpretation to successfully predict 7 years of plenty and 7 years of famine.
Now it’s during these 7 years of famine that his brothers come to Egypt asking for food. They don’t realize it’s Joseph they’re talking to, but he recognizes them. Joseph arranges for his youngest brother Benjamin—who is his only full brother, the only other son of Rachel—to be framed. He plants a silver chalice in his backpack and accuses the brothers of stealing it. When he uncovers it in Benjamin’s bag, he orders the other brothers to leave and says he will keep Benjamin as his slave. The brothers don’t want to let this happen. And his brother Judah steps up and asks that he be his slave in place of the boy Benjamin. When Joseph sees his brothers aren’t willing to sell out another brother to slavery, he can’t contain himself any longer and reveals that it is he, Joseph. Then comes the text we read this morning where Joseph forgives his brothers and the whole family ends up coming down to Egypt to be taken care of.
It's a story of forgiveness and about how God uses all things for good for those who trust in Him. Toward the end of the book, Joseph tells his brothers: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” It’s a helpful reminder that God can even use our sin and mistakes to bring about good.
Now we’ve heard the example of Joseph’s story and admire the way he can forgive his brothers for their evil to him. But I sometimes wonder: what if Joseph didn’t end up as a wealthy advisor to Pharaoh? What if Joseph was a slave to a cruel master his whole life? Would he have forgiven his brothers then? Would he have forgiven his brothers if he hadn’t seen God using their evil for good? I don’t know about you, but if somebody wronged me and everything worked out for the better, I’m sure it’d be easier to forgive them than if that person’s wrong led to my life being ruined.
So I don’t know if Joseph would have been able to forgive his brothers if nothing good came from their selling him into slavery. But I do know that a lot of people experience evil and never get to see any apparent good coming out of it. What good comes out of a child being abused and having to suffer from trauma the rest of their life? What good comes out of a stray bullet killing an innocent person? What good comes out of cancer, or car accidents, or natural disasters? What good comes out of famines that devastate countries or human greed that leaves much of the world in poverty?
There’s a lot of terrible suffering in the world, both from people who do evil to others and from illness and natural disasters. There’s so much suffering in the world that it’s hard to believe in a God who is both all loving and all powerful. The evil and suffering of this world just don’t seem to make sense if God is supposed to be good.
I took a course in seminary called “God, Evil, and Suffering” and it was one of the best classes I ever had. We explored the subject of theodicy, it’s a subfield of theology which specifically wonders about the presence of evil and suffering in a universe created by a God we believe is all loving and all powerful. It’s a tough subject to grapple with, and every philosophical idea seems to be nullified by a real-world example which brings it all into question again.
My seminary class never got to the bottom of why of evil and suffering exist. We didn’t come up with any groundbreaking answers. But one thing that came from reflections in that class is that even if we don’t know the “why,” Jesus teaches us the “how.” The how to respond to evil and suffering when we encounter it. Jesus teaches that our response to evil and suffering should always be forgiveness. He teaches us this in the Gospel reading this morning, and he teaches us it by his own example on the cross, when he says, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Jesus didn’t just talk the talk. Jesus walked the walk. And through it he showed us the way of unconditional forgiveness. A lesson we can carry into our everyday lives. Forgiveness of those who have harmed us intentionally or accidently. Forgiveness of loved ones who hurt when they should have helped us. Forgiveness of ourselves for not living up to our own expectations. Forgiveness of life for not being the way we want it to be. Forgiveness of God for allowing sin, evil, and suffering to exist in the first place.
A pastor I know told me a story about how when she was in college, she was a Domino’s delivery driver. And one of her coworkers was robbed at knife point. When her coworker returned to work and told the manager what happened, he said that he gave the thief all his money and then reached into his back pocket and gave the thief all his tip money as well. Some coworkers said, “What, why would you do that, he didn’t know you had that money in your back pocket!” And the young man quoted Jesus’ words here about turning the other cheek and not withholding even your shirt when someone robs you of your coat. Following Jesus’ teaching gave that young man an opportunity to live out his faith and to witness to Jesus. It also gave his coworkers, like my friend who was about to start seminary, the chance to talk to him about his faith. They never knew if it changed the thief at all, but the young man didn’t let the thief change him.
Jesus teaches us to live life from a stance of forgiveness. He teaches us to see through a new pair of glasses, through the lens of forgiveness. Jesus trains us in forgiveness like it’s a new skill—a skill that life gives us tons of opportunity to practice! Jesus trains us to see the potential for forgiveness in every situation. He teaches us to actually seek it out. To become so skilled at forgiveness and love that we actually love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. To become so skilled at forgiveness that when somebody steals our coat, we give them our shirt as well. To become so skilled at forgiveness that when somebody steals from our Domino’s cash pouch, we empty our own wallet and give them our tips too.
In living life from a stance of constant forgiveness we can be free. We may not be free of suffering, but we can be free from suffering’s power over us and from the desire for revenge to inflict suffering on others. Refusing to spread more suffering around. And when we cultivate a stance of forgiveness, when we make a spiritual habit to always forgive, we change the world. We change our inner landscape, and we change the outer world around us. When we learn to forgive the way Jesus teaches, life truly becomes more peaceful and whole.
We ourselves have been forgiven by God and are invited to become mature children of the Most High, not spiritual infants who refuse to forgive, but mature children of God who follow Christ’s path of love and forgiveness. So let this text invite us into a new framework of understanding reality. A new way of living in the world. View everything as something that can help you practice the art of forgiveness. View everything as an opportunity to grow in love. And even if we don’t succeed, life will continually give us opportunities to offer love and forgive in response to cruelty and suffering. Though we may not understand why sin, evil, and suffering are so present, through Christ we know that we are forgiven and are invited to share his love and forgiveness with the world.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Pastor Brian, 2/20/22