On the third day Joseph said to them, ‘Do this and you will live, for I fear God: if you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here where you are imprisoned. The rest of you shall go and carry grain for the famine of your households, and bring your youngest brother to me. Thus your words will be verified, and you shall not die.’ And they agreed to do so. They said to one another, ‘Alas, we are paying the penalty for what we did to our brother; we saw his anguish when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen. That is why this anguish has come upon us.’ Then Reuben answered them, ‘Did I not tell you not to wrong the boy? But you would not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.’ They did not know that Joseph understood them, since he spoke with them through an interpreter. He turned away from them and wept; then he returned and spoke to them. And he picked out Simeon and had him bound before their eyes. Joseph then gave orders to fill their bags with grain, to return every man’s money to his sack, and to give them provisions for their journey. This was done for them.
Many of us make mountains out of molehills brooding over slights and insults. Not knowing the full story, we often read more into an event than was ever there: that friend didn’t wave back because of a secret hatred; your father-in-law is late because you’re not good enough for his family; your boss never invites you for coffee because you do a bad job.
Having suffered so badly, Joseph surely built up mental images of his brothers celebrating his absence and living far better lives than his own. His heart must have been hardened against them – until he heard them talking and was moved to tears by love. A love restored by hearing that Reuben had pleaded for him. A love restored by finding out that his brothers had not only been thinking about him, but felt guilt about their misdeeds. A love that knew these statements were true reflections of what was in his brothers’ hearts.
Most of us are never privy to what others think of us so we might never find out that we were not seen by a friend in the street who was worrying about a doctor’s appointment. We might never know that our father-in-law tends to be late because his arthritis is bad on a morning. We might never discover that our boss doesn’t need to invite us for coffee and “a chat” because she views us as reliable. When we feel neglected or insulted, we can choose how to react: assume the hurt was caused deliberately or assume it wasn’t. As followers of Christ, we are called to respond always through love and that means asking for clarification when we are confused by somebody’s actions and it means letting love break through any resentment we might feel.
Gracious God, as you have given all of us the benefit of the doubt on so many occasions, we ask that you give us the grace to do the same for others. Allow resentment to be displaced by love in our hearts. Amen.
Helen Wilson is a Local Preacher in the South East Northumberland Ecumenical Area.