A Habit of Forgiveness
We have been speaking of Joseph and his brothers for a while and the terrible thing they did to him. We noted how Joseph forgave them, and their father forgave them. But did they forgive themselves and change their ways?
Well, they still weren't above a little deceit. When their father died they were afraid that Joseph would rescind his forgiveness and start taking revenge on them. So they told Joseph that their father Jacob, on his deathbed, asked for Joseph to forgive them. Joseph wept when he heard this from them for he had truly forgiven them and thought that was behind them all.
Why had they been unsure of his forgiveness? I think it was because they still had not forgiven themselves. Their own lack of forgiveness reared its ugly head as suspicion of Joseph. Then they slipped back into their habit of lying to get what they wanted.
For reflection: It can be hard to break out of habitual ways of relating to one other. If forgiving others and forgiving ourselves becomes our habit, then other habits like lying will disappear.
Let us pray. "His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers" (Luke 1:50-55).
The Power of Forgiveness
Of the 12 sons of Jacob, 9 had conspired to sell Joseph into slavery. Another one participated in the cover up. It was a terrible sin, but they were forgiven both by Joseph and by God. From those 12 came the nation of Israel. God did not choose 12 men who were without sin, he chose 12 who knew the power of forgiveness.
Forgiveness restored the relationship of the brothers to Joseph. Forgiveness restored the relationship of the guilty sons to their father. They had lied to their father and kept it secret for many years. No doubt if Joseph had not forgiven his brothers, his father would not have forgiven them either. Forgiveness saved their lives. Had Joseph not forgiven them, they never could have gotten the food in Egypt that saved them from the famine.
For reflection: Forgiveness still has that power today. It has the power to restore relationships and save lives. It has power across miles, across generations, across time, death and eternity. Whom do I need to forgive?
Let us pray. Father, I thank you for showing me the way to forgiveness. It is possible to even forgive people who have tried to kill me, or who wished me dead, or who have lied to me for years. With your help, I choose to forgive.
God With Us
Often when I pray with people it seems that they think God has "put them through tough times" deliberately in order to develop their character, help them grow, or whatever.
Let's take a look at this concept through the lens of Joseph's story. If this concept is true, then God meant for Joseph to be sold into slavery in order to punish him for sin, or develop his character and turn him into a great leader, or even just to get him to Egypt from his homeland.
First, if all God wanted was to get Joseph from Canaan to Egypt, God could have done that any number of ways without putting Joseph through turmoil and suffering.
Second, Joseph's suffering helped to develop his character and abilities as a leader, but God is not the one who sold him into slavery, or falsely accused him, or put him in prison. People did that, not God.
Third, clearly God was with Joseph throughout this time. Genesis 39:2-3 tell us that God was with Joseph in Potiphar's house and that Potiphar recognized this fact and that Joseph was a blessing to him. In Genesis 39:21, it clearly says that God was with Joseph in prison where he rose to a leadership position and he had favor with the warden. When Joseph went to work for Pharaoh, it became obvious that God had raised him to that position to save Egypt from the famine. God was continually blessing Joseph, not punishing him.
Finally, Joseph himself recognized that what his brothers had done to him was not the work of God. "You meant evil against me; but God has used it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive," Joseph tells his brothers after they are reconciled (Genesis 50:20). The evil, the slavery, the imprisonment were not God's doing. As with Joseph, God is with us in our trials, with us in our suffering.
For reflection: How has God been with me in my trials? For what problems am I blaming God?
Let us pray. If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness
Father of Forgiveness
"We sold him for a pittance. We expected him to die. He forgave us anyway." I can just hear Joseph's brothers telling the story to each other, to their friends, to their sons and daughters. When the whole family got together over dinner, this was the story they told, generation after generation. It was a story of forgiveness they could never have believed if they hadn't experienced it themselves.
What happened? In a nutshell, the jealous older brothers sold their younger brother Joseph to slave traders. Knowing that the slavers would treat their brother harshly in the desert, the brothers never expected that Joseph would make it to the slave market. But he did. He was bought in Egypt, had a rough life, and then, through a series of divine appointments, became the second most important man in Egypt. When a famine came over his homeland, the brothers came to Egypt looking for food. What they found was Joseph. And forgiveness. (Joseph's story is told in Genesis 37-50.)
For reflection: Where does this kind of forgiveness come from? What stories of forgiveness can I tell from my own life?
Let us pray. Father of Forgiveness, you lead me in ways in would not choose for myself. If not for you, I would not choose forgiveness; I would not choose to let go. But with your strength and your help I choose to forgive.
A Parent's Blessing
Today in the United States we have the 40th annual mourning of the babies aborted since abortion became legal in the U.S. Thousands of people will march in Washington to say that life is sacred. Not only should babies not be aborted, but our schools should not become shooting galleries, teens should not be killed on the streets, and adults on death row should not be executed.
Children are both a parent's blessing and an obligation. They provide both joy and frustration. Parents are both a child's blessing and an obligation. They provide both joy and frustration.
Let us pray today for our children and our parents. Eternal Father, I ask you to bless my children as you blessed your Son. Bless them with a right relationship with you, a long and healthy life, and eternal happiness in your kingdom.
Jesus, I ask you to bless my parents. May they have a long and healthy life and walk in your ways all their days. May your face ever shine upon them.
The Perfect Father
Grandparents often joke with their children about getting the same kind of children they were, especially if they were rascals. "Just you wait," they say. "Your children will be just like you when you were growing up." Often that is true.
Let's continue to look at Jacob and his life for a moment. Yes, Jacob showed favoritism among his sons and they were rivals for his affection. Where might he have experienced favoritism and sibling rivalry in his own life? Jacob had a twin brother named Esau. He and Esau were rivals for their parents' affection. The Scripture tells us that Esau was a hunter and a man of the open country while Jacob was a quiet man who stayed at home. Their father Isaac loved Esau, and their mother Rebekah loved Jacob.
So Jacob grew up with favoritism being shown by his parents and in rivalry with his brother Esau (Genesis 25:19 -27:45). As a father himself, Jacob showed favoritism among his sons and experienced rivalry among them too. His boys turned out just like him and his brother Esau.
For reflection: What habits of my parents have I carried forward into my life? Are they good or bad habits?
Let us pray. Father God, I thank you for my parents. I thank you for the love they showed to me and that they did their best to raise me to adulthood. I thank you for being my Father also, for keeping me under your wing even today.
I ask you to help me forgive my parents for not being everything that I needed them to be. I repent of judging them for what they did and did not do. I forgive them for not being perfect parents. (It is important to forgive them as specifically as you can in this type of prayer.) I ask you, Father, to bring to my mind the other things for which I need to forgive my parents. (Pay attention to memories that come up in the next couple of weeks. As God brings these to mind, forgive your parents for them.)
I repent of carrying on my parents' bad habits in my own life and with my children. Forgive me for the bad ways I have acted toward my children (again, be specific and pay attention to memories that arise in the next couple of weeks). Help me to see my children through your loving eyes, Father. You are the only perfect Father. Help me to be more like you.
No Respecter of Persons
As another area needing forgiveness let's look at a bad case of sibling rivalry. The story of Joseph and his brothers from Genesis 37 - 50 is one of the most well known in the Bible. It begins with Joseph's 10 older brothers being jealous of him because "Dad liked him best". There is plenty of blame to go around in this story, and plenty of repentance and forgiveness needed.
First, the boys' dad, Jacob, should not have shown preference among his sons. Yet he did it so blatantly that they all recognized it (Genesis 37:3-4). So Jacob, head of the family, is the instigator and definitely at fault. Jacob should have repented and asked his sons' forgiveness.
Second, the older brothers got fed up with the favoritism. Instead of confronting their father about it though, they took it out on Joseph.
Third, Joseph should not have been flaunting his pride of place in front of his brothers, even if he was younger and less responsible than they.
For Reflection: Let's concentrate on Jacob's role today. Is there any place in my life where I have shown favoritism when I should not have? At home? At work? Why am I showing favoritism? (Read James 2:1-13)
Let us pray. Father, thank you for revealing to me where I am showing favoritism. I repent of that and I ask your help in correcting my attitude and my feelings. I ask your forgiveness for treating others unfairly. Please help me to treat them the way you want me to treat them.
No Record of Wrongs
"Love keeps no record of wrongs," St. Paul tells in his first letter to the Corinthians (13:5). The verse comes in the midst of a description of what love is. Since our theme for a while is forgiveness, what does that have to do with forgiveness?
What is unforgiveness but keeping a record of wrongs done to us? We can keep that record, reciting a litany of wrongs done to us ad infinitum. Or we can choose to forgive the person. I say "choose" because forgiveness is a choice and an act of the will. It does not depend upon our feelings finally being at a point where we can forgive. Forgiveness does not excuse what was done nor does it mean that what occurred was all right. It also does not give the person permission to hurt us in the same way again.
For Reflection: In my experience of praying with people I have found many people say they have forgiven someone, but the hurt obviously remains. In that case it is best to forgive in detail. For example, "I forgive (name) for calling me stupid, for saying I was dumb, incompetent and worthless." This is different than just saying, "I forgive (name)." If we have forgiven someone and yet the hurt remains years later, we should forgive them specifically, in detail, for everything they said or did. The relief from the anger and hurt will come, usually quickly. Pronouncing the forgiveness aloud is helpful also.
Let us pray. Father, when you forgive us you keep no record of our wrongs, you wipe the slate clean. Help me to pronounce forgiveness for those who have hurt me and to let the list of their wrongs be erased.
Lord of Forgiveness
There are two kinds of hurt in this life: the hurt we do to others and the hurt that others do to us. Both are equally important but Christians seem to pay more attention to the first than to the second. We brush off the hurt from others by saying things like, "Oh, it's OK" or "S/He didn't mean it" or "I understand now why s/he did it." With excuses such as these we tamp down the anger, we bury the harm that was done, and cause more damage to ourselves.
On top of that we are disobeying God. Jesus didn't say to excuse others, he said to forgive them. He didn't say to bury the hurt, he said expose it to the light. Trying to ignore the harm done is not part of being meek or humble. It does not follow the Christian imperative to forgive, which means to deal with it.
I bring this up because in the many years I have prayed with people, lack of forgiveness is often at the root of the problem. It is not the only root, but it certainly is a strong one. In the next few weeks we will look at forgiveness in the Scriptures, what they mean for our lives, and how we might set ourselves and others free from the captivity of our unforgiveness.
For Reflection: Which person in my life irritates me the most (at home, at work, at school)? What are my pet peeves, and why? When do I find myself unable to do or say the good thing I want to do (see Romans 7:15).
Let us pray. Jesus, Lord of Forgiveness, I think that I have done a good job of forgiving those who have hurt me. However, if there is someone or something I still need to work on, please show it to me today.
"O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people" begins the last of the O Antiphons. Emmanuel means "God is with us." God has been here with us in a way he never was in the days of Isaiah. God sent his son, Jesus, Emmanuel, to be with us physically, to show us the way, to be our light, our key, our Lord, to be the fulfillment of his promise to us.
This last of the O Antiphons brings us to the end of our reflections for the Christmas season. Let's enjoy the music and artwork below for our reflection and prayer today.
I started this website and blog on May 1, 2012. I am a Catholic who has been in ministry for many years. I first developed what I would call a close relationship with Jesus in the early 1970s. Ever since then I have been praying with people for healing and other needs. It is because I have seen so many of these prayers answered that I am so bold as to offer to pray for you individually through this website and phone line.