Friday Meditation: Karis Tees
And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God?
I have nothing clever to say here. I have no memory for scripture, poetry, or sermons. Key ideas, phrases that move me, well-spoken words – all but a vague shadow is erased from my mind as soon as I leave the room or put down the book. I have a good memory for songs and lyrics, but that has mostly to do with the shape of the words and the lilt of the music. I can learn a song by heart within half an hour, but I might sing it for years without much idea what the lyrics are about.
This frame of mind in which I live makes it very difficult to write a meditation like this as we approach the close of a semester that has been embarrassingly rich in ideas and experiences – the series of Empathy talks, Friday student meditations, the guest sermons on Thursdays, the Winter Retreat with Dr. Roberta Barker, Dr. Susan Dodd’s quiet day, the Reading Week trip to Toronto. The urge to attempt a kind of synthesis, or to at least speak thematically, is difficult to resist. But the urge is useless anyways, because I don't even remember fragments so much as indistinct blurs, as if every image has slid by without stopping to rest.
Our Chaplain sent an email out recently sharing a commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, which reads, "... the wise man seeks truth, and when he finds it, he does not hesitate to adore it, to subject himself to it. Have we Christians, in comparison, become indifferent, not because we have not found, but because we have found too much, all at once?” Fr. Thorne suggested that perhaps all of the beautiful discussions in the Chapel have been “too much, all at once.”
Although I am actually not convinced that this is the case, I am confident that this talk will only add another fragment or blur to your saturated minds. So, I will speak simply and briefly about just one sentence from the first lesson we just heard.
The sentence is this: “And when Joseph’s brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did unto him’” (Gen. 49:15). Having followed Joseph’s story for the past week and a half in the lessons for Morning and Evening Prayer, I find this attitude absolutely scandalous! I felt a kind of righteous indignation when I read it. As if Joseph has just been biding his time until his father died to take revenge on his brothers! As if the forgiveness and reconciliation that Joseph continually pours upon them in word and action is only for show! As if the fact that they are living in the land of Goshen with food to eat and water to drink is of their own doing! Who do they think they are? Of course, no part of their lives is of their own doing, and that is precisely what they cannot stand. As they see it, Joseph’s brethren owe their lives, the lives of their families, and the entire future inheritance of Israel to their brother, and they assume he is finally going to cash in on the debts they owe. An eye for an eye. They project their own selfishness on their brother Joseph.
But the attitude of the brothers is not surprising or scandalous. It is commonplace, and we can recognize it immediately in our own souls. When we have done serious harm to another person, the thought that they might truly forgive us and even wish the good for us is actually beyond the scope of our imagination. We may hope for forgiveness, but we do not expect it.
During Lent, we greet one another with the phrase, “forgive and bless.”
One of the few distinct but entirely unoriginal thoughts I had at the beginning of this year was that forgiveness must be a gift granted, a sudden or slow opening of the heart, and not an act of will performed by an agent. Forgiveness belongs to God. We can only pray that we might be overwhelmed by the forgiveness of God; that a space of forgiveness may be opened in our souls.
Joseph’s brethren do not owe their lives, the lives of their families, and the future inheritance of Israel to their brother, for he has only ever been an instrument of God.. In the final lines of the final chapter of Genesis, when the brothers ask for Joseph’s forgiveness, they receive nothing less than the full forgiveness of God, in the person of their brother Joseph:
And they sent a messenger unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying, So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil: and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him. And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we be thy servants. And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.