Reconciliation with our past
Today we are going to talk about the story of Joseph, which I think most people are familiar with. But before we start, let me tell you a story. Do you all like to eat apples?
When you buy an apple, do you look at the skin of the apple before buying it at the stall? Like selecting only those good-looking ones? During my stay in the school hostel, we often ordered organic vegetables and fruits from a local farm. The apples got delivered to my place without even me selecting the fruit. The apples all looked the same, red and shiny, etc.
When I cut open the fruits, one was all good inside, looking clear fresh, and juicy, but another one was bruised and mushy inside. What happened to the apple, why did it become like that?
Let’s imagine the nice apple was being picked from the garden, but on the way, it dropped on the ground or got knocked on a hard surface a few times during delivery. Although it appears ok on the outside, the inside is already bruised.
The apple cannot tell you what happened to it till you cut it open, it is the same for us as humans, we do not know what happened to another person by looking on the outside, the person might be going through their own pains and hurts.
What comes to your mind when you think about Joseph? (Menti Word Cloud) – The Dreamer, Son of Jacob, the guy sold into slavery, blessed by God, etc. Let’s put ourselves into his story starting from his youth.
1 The Memories of Our Youth
Joseph, when he was seventeen years of age, was pasturing the flock with his brothers, while he was still a youth, along with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought back a bad report about them to their father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his other sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a multicolored tunic. 4 And his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms. (Gen 37:2-4 NASB)
In Gen 37:2-4 Joseph appeared as a young man 17 years old and the first thing that the bible writes about him was him bringing a bad report about his brothers to his father. What was this report about, we often wonder?
From the clues given in Gen 37:2, “Joseph was there helping the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah” (the sons were Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher), this bad report does not concern all his brothers, but only four sons of Jacob’s secondary wives and we can picture the sibling rivalry between the brothers.
Why did Joseph bring that bad report, won’t it put him in a bad light with his brothers? Joseph really wanted his father’s favor and his actions were an act of tale-bearing in which he wanted to make himself important in front of his father.
Joseph had a big family, and he was the 9th of 12 siblings, and he was known as the favorite son of Jacob, he was the apple of his father’s eye. The story started with him not having a good relationship with his brothers, so what were the reasons that contributed to the brother’s hatred?
Firstly, Jacob favored Joseph and gave him a distinctive garment, a colored or long coat with a sleeved tunic covering the wrists and ankles, an apparel similar to that of a princess. This Hebrew word for the dress was also used in 2 Sam 13 to describe Tamar’s dress. During those times, the social significance of dress was the most striking and powerful indication of social rank.
5 Then Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Please listen to this dream which I have had; 7 for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf stood up and also remained standing; and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.” 8
Then his brothers said to him, “Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. (Gen 37:5-8)
Secondly, in Gen 37:5-8, the way Joseph told his dreams to his brothers made them angry as they did not want to be subordinate to him. The garment already elevated Joseph’s position above his brothers and with the dreams, that intensified their hatred towards their brother, they plotted to kill him.
As we read Gen 37, we noticed that the narrator had given his understanding of the human condition – the hatred of the one slighted is often directed not toward the one who favors unjustly but towards the one who was favored, for example, in the story of Cain and Abel, his anger was not directed towards God but against Abel. And although the brothers hated their father for favoring Joseph, they directed their anger toward Joseph, not Jacob.
So how does this apply to us now? For example, we are silent with people who keep the poor in poverty to exploit them, but we blame the poor for not working hard to get out of poverty.
So, we continue the story, and the scene shifts to Dothan, the place that Joseph would remember as it had changed his life forever. He was sent by his father from Hebron to find his brothers, and he went to Shechem and Dothan. This was the route taken by Ishmaelite traders.
In summary, when his brothers saw him alone, in the wilderness of Dothan, and without the protection of his father, they plot to kill him. They threw him in the cistern and discussed what to do with him while eating their lunch.
Reuben wanted to rescue his brother Joseph while he was in the cistern, but Judah wanted to sell him away to the Ishmaelites. Thus, they hatch the plot to get rid of Joseph and covered up their sin by dipping his robe in goat’s blood to let his father assume that he was killed by animals.
What were Joseph’s emotions when he was sold into slavery (Menti Word Cloud)?
Maybe he asks God, “Why did this happen to me? I did nothing wrong.”
So, as we put ourselves in the shoes of Joseph, what were his memories of his youth? He remembers his father who favors him and loved him dearly.
His memories of his brothers are likely terrible, as he was just running an errand of bringing food to them and got thrown into the pit, they snacked on the food he brought and plotted his murder.
He heard every word of their conversation of killing him, he was filled with fear for his life. He heard them dealing with the Midianites to sell him to Ishmaelites, he begged them not to do this, but they ignored him.
And with his tear-filled eyes, he gazed at his brothers with anger and bitterness as he heard them celebrating and plotting to lie to their father about him being killed by a wild animal.
The last image of them burned in his mind as the slave owners took him away. With time, the image faded during his captivity in Egypt, but it would remain with him for the next two decades.
(Personal Story/ Reflection)
We are all people of memories. Memories define how we deal with our relationships in the past and present. I remembered one story from my youth that defined my path while coming out. When we think about our youth, what comes to mind? What are some of the memories we have?
As Christians, we have physical and spiritual families. My spiritual family was a young church group (I would not reveal the name), they were a loving group who had brought me to the faith and discipled us.
They were my spiritual family when I first started as a young believer in Christ. Their approval gave me worth and acceptance. In the year 2000 when I was contemplating baptism, I confessed that I liked a lady in my cell group, she was someone that I looked up to.
My love for her intensified as I liked her more than a sister in Christ. My discipler told me that homosexuality was wrong and that I cannot love someone of the same sex. While I struggled with my sexuality during those few years, I attended the program “Choices”, by the Church of Our Savior, they used reparative therapy to help us to turn straight.
I remembered one of the support group sessions we had to recall our relationship with our family. The book that we did for our sessions was “Making Peace with Our Past” by Tim Sludge.
We were told to recall our models of childhood, the relationship with our mother, or father, and the dysfunctional families that we had. Although I identified some of the problematic connections with my family that may have caused my love for a woman, that does not change my orientation.
Being in the program made me more aware of my own family problems. I tried to do the right things, confess my sin, and pray away my gayness, but after 3 years I still had these feelings for her.
My request for baptism was rejected on the grounds that I was still having sin in my life, and that I had not repented from my sin. What is this sin that they say I need to repent from?
I was angry at the people who had decided my fate and rejected me from baptism. My last memory was standing at the sea with my tear-filled eyes at East Coast Park in 2004, looking at other folks getting baptized and I was burning with anger.
The people who hurt me made no attempt to reconcile with me. I left the church shortly after and this memory faded for the next 15 years. Eventually, I went to another church and got baptized in 2007.
Being baptized in another church did not fully resolve my anger and bitterness as I was still seeking an answer to my homosexual inclinations.
I came to FCC in 2008, as I was seeking to find an answer to my struggles and wanted to know if God will accept me for who I am. I thank God that now I have reconciled my faith and sexuality. Although I left my first church many years ago, the past memories still haunt me, how am I going to seek closure for anger and bitterness?
2) The reunion that we all dream about.
we continue the story of Joseph, we see many events that happened to Joseph in the span of 13 years. (PPT slide Joseph Journey)
Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers, served in Potiphar’s house, got thrown into prison, and served as Pharaoh’s right-hand man for the 7 years of abundance and 7 years of famine after he interpreted the dream for Pharaoh. Did Joseph forget about his family during this time?
Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. 51 Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh[e] and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” The second son he named Ephraim[f] and said, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.” (Gen 41:50-52)
We saw that Joseph remembered his troubles and his father’s household and that was causing him pain and hurt all the years of his life. He temporarily forgot his suffering and pain after God had delivered him from prison and blessed him.
6 Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the person who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground. As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them. “Where do you come from?” he asked. “From the land of Canaan,” they replied, “to buy food.”
Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. (Gen 42:6-8)
Let’s study the Hebrew Verbs in the verse:
The words are “See”, “Recognize”, and “Strange”.
רָאָה (Ra-ah) See
וַיַּכִּרֵם (Way-yak-kih-reym) – Recognize נכר (root)
וַיִּתְנַכֵּר (way-yihth-nak-keyr) Pretend / be strange towards them נכר (root)
נכר נָכַר(Nakar) – Discern, Recognize (root word) -> נֵכָר (Nekar) – Foreigner, Stranger
The Hebrew language is unique as it can pack all its emotions into 1 sentence.
When we read V7, it is exciting to know that although Joseph recognizes his brothers he treats them like strangers. The root word in Hebrew for recognize is “Nakar. It is used twice in verse 7 in different forms. There is a play on the two words way-yak-kih-reym and way-yihth-nak-ker. Nekar is derived from Nakar, meaning foreign or stranger.
How did Joseph pretend not to know them? Did he disguise his face or dress? There might be 2 explanations, Joseph left them as a boy without a beard, thus they cannot recognize him with one, or he was wearing a mask like an Egyptian Lord. Joseph pretended not to know them and spoke harshly to them.
Isn’t this similar to our own human reactions? Meeting people who had hurt us, our natural reaction was to be on the defensive and we would speak harsh words to protect ourselves.
One of the common experiences we have is that people do not remember the pain that they caused us. How is possible for us to get closure if the other person doesn’t even remember the incident or the words that they said that hurt us?
Those memories remain with us, and we are unable to let go, and that fester into bitterness within us. People who harbor bitterness give themselves permission to nurture it like a plant, watering it and over time it becomes such a vital part of themselves that they feel lost without it.
“Bitterness is a sign that we haven’t fully processed our memories, we need to let it go before it consumes us”. They say time heals all wounds, but there cannot be healing unless we acknowledge it and learn to forgive.
How do we forgive if the other person doesn’t even acknowledge the wrong, they have done, or we can no longer have a conversation with the person?
I asked ChatGPT: What is the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation?
Forgiveness is the act of letting go of negative emotions such as anger, resentment, or bitterness toward someone who has wronged you. It involves acknowledging the hurt or harm caused by the other person.
Forgiveness can be a personal decision that you can make for yourself regardless of whether the other person is willing or able to reconcile with you.
For example, in Genesis 27:41, Esau wanted to kill Jacob because Jacob tricked their father to give the blessing that was Esau’s birthright as the elder brother to Jacob instead.
But yet, when they met again decades later in Genesis 33:4, we see that Esau had no intention to harm his brother although he came with 400 men. He ran to meet Jacob and embrace him, hug him, kiss him and they wept. Esau had already forgiven Jacob after all this time.
Reconciliation is the process of restoring a damaged relationship or resolving a conflict. You have a dialogue with the offender about what happened, exchange stories, express hurt, listen for remorse, and begin to re-establish trust. Forgiveness is solo, reconciliation is a joint venture.
Although Esau forgave Jacob, they were not fully reconciled as Jacob was still fearful of his brother and instead of heading to Seir to join his brother as he had said to Esau, Jacob settled in Sukkoth.
“Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We can change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.” – Smedes
During one of the sessions with my spiritual director, while we were doing silent meditation, I found it hard to be still as I had unresolved issues with someone. She encouraged me to pray without words, to let Jesus intercede for me.
She sat across me, placed a chair between us, and put a picture of Jesus holding a lamb in his arms on the chair and she says, “Let’s invite Jesus into this place, he is in our midst, and as we commit all that we wanted to say in the heart of Jesus and he will intercede for us.”
Sometimes when we are unable to do anything about the situation or speak to the person, we can commit all to God and trust that God will work in his time.
I meet my Spiritual director every month. For three months, I did the same thing each time during prayer. The first time doing it was really hard, filled with bitterness and anger beyond words, just letting tears flow down. After each session, it always feels lighter like removing a burden off my shoulders, as I learn to give it all to Jesus. As we learn to surrender, Jesus can do his work in our lives.
3 The reconciliation with his brothers
As we continue to read the chapters of Gen 42-44, we see Joseph’s acts of love and hatred in his actions towards his brothers. He played the game of guilt-tripping them by accusing them of being spies, imprisoning Simeon, and asking them to bring his brother – Benjamin. Why does he do this? We read Joseph wept a few times:
When hearing Reuben’s words of recollection of the brothers’ sin toward Joseph.
24 He turned away from them and began to weep, but then came back and spoke to them again. (Gen 42:24)
When seeing his brother Benjamin again:
30 Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there. (Gen 44:30)
And finally after hearing Judah’s confession about his sin, Joseph decided to reveal himself to his brothers.
And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him and Pharaoh’s household heard about it. (Gen 45:1-2) … And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them.
Throughout the narratives, we hardly see any emotions from Joseph till Gen 42, when he saw his brothers again. He wept each time he tried to do something to hurt his brothers. Crying is an emotion that is often avoided as it was seen as a sign of weakness.
Crying helps us to release our emotions. As Joseph wept, he was made aware of what he really felt towards his brothers, and with time, he chose to reveal himself to reconcile with them.
The brothers’ responses of repentance mattered to Joseph and that was sufficient to break the barrier and be the start of healing in their relationship. In life, we do not know what the best way is to reconcile but we only can trust in God’s timing.
Healing is a process, it does not happen overnight, and we cannot decide the response of the other person, but we can do something for ourselves by letting go of the bitterness and learning to forgive and pray for the other person. Sometimes our issues can never be resolved, and reconciliation is not what we expect, but we can commit all to God to work in his time.
Our lives are maybe like the apples that were rolled along in life, got banged up, and crushed inside, we kept a lot of our bitterness within. We need to learn to forgive to reduce this bitterness in our lives.
I would like to invite you to think of an incident where you need to be reconciled with the person or people who hurt you.
I would like you to close your eyes for a few minutes, quieten down your heart, take a few breaths, recall the incident… and as we invite Jesus into our midst, ask him to help you forgive this person. Take a few moments to be still (3 min).
Thank You, Lord Jesus, for hearing our prayers. Amen
So let me end with my story of reconciliation.
In 2019 March when I was on a trip to Israel with brothers and sisters from China Rainbow fellowship, one of our itineraries is visiting the Jordan River. This is the place where John baptized Jesus.
All of us were invited to renew our baptismal vows as we went down into the Jordan River. I had never gone through baptism through full submersion as my previous was water sprinkling.
As we were preparing to go down to the water, the memories of 2004 came to mind. At East Coast Park, I saw my church friends preparing to do full submersion for baptism, I remember them singing the hymn – “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back no turning back, the world behind me, the cross before me. No turning back, no turning back.” Previously I was just standing at the side watching them getting baptized, but this time I was able to enter the river. This same song echoed in my mind as I was preparing to enter the Jordon River.
As I stepped into the water to be baptized again, I thank God for this precious opportunity to be baptized at this unique place in Jordan River as a renewal of my commitment, I realized too that I had already forgiven the people who hurt me as I have reconciled my faith and sexuality and believe that God loves me for who I am.
As I submerged in the water, I had left my past in the water and arise with new life with Christ in center of it all.