Words On The Word this week are based on these lectionary passages:
- Genesis 50:15-21
- Psalm 103:(1-7), 8-13
- Romans 14:1-12
- Matthew 18:21-35
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 50:15-21 – Does Joseph Bear A Grudge?
The story of Joseph is the longest narrative in Genesis. If you have ever taken part in the glorious production “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat” then you will probably know the story well. It bears repeating.
Joseph, the Dreamer, upsets his brothers in Canaan who sell him off to some passing Slave Traders heading for Egypt, pretending to their Father that he has been killed. They never expected to see him again – indeed, they all lived as though Joseph was no longer alive.
Meanwhile, Joseph has worked his way up, by a succession of ‘God-incidences’ to become the right-hand man of Pharaoh himself, from which position he oversees to storage of surplus grain for the approaching period of famine.
When the famine hits Canaan, Joseph’s brothers come with their begging bowls to Egypt, where they do not recognise Joseph until he makes himself known to them privately. He forgives them, and says that God has brought him through it all.
Joseph is reunited with his father – itself a ‘return from the dead’ story not unlike the story of the Prodigal Son – who is finally able to die a happy man, in Egypt where his family are treated like royalty.
Nevertheless, Joseph remembers his father’s wish for his bones to be buried back home in Canaan, so he makes the trip with his brothers back to Canaan before returning to Egypt again.
It is on the way back that the brothers realise that now Jacob (Israel) is dead and buried, Joseph could well assume the Patriarch role and turn on his brothers for their earlier betrayal of him.
That is how, here in Chapter 50, we find the brothers needing to hear from Joseph whether his forgiveness offered way back in Chapter 45 was truly meant.
And of course, we hear that the forgiveness was indeed real. No grudges. All in the past.
Joseph weeps. The brothers weep. It is a beautiful, sacred moment.
Psalm 103:(1-7), 8-13 – Bless The Lord O My Soul
Matt Redman’s anthemic song “10,000 Reasons” rightly continues to top the Christian music charts, not just for its use in church worship contexts, but also in personal devotions. It is a powerful song, loved by young and old alike. And it came out just too late to be included in Singing The Faith!
Its refrain “Bless The Lord, O My Soul” is taken directly from Psalm 103 (and also Psalm 104), where it is a phrase of almost ecstatic joy and worship.
Contrast, then, the exuberance of Matt Redman’s music, with the far more reflective Taizé chant of the same words.
But why the praise? What has God done that the Psalmist is so thankful to God?
The answers tumble out in the Psalmist’s words, phrase cascading upon phrase – the “10,000 Reasons” of the song’s title. Even the Taizé version sums them all up in its simple phrase “He leads me into life”.
The “life” of course is nothing less than God’s loving mercy. One commentator describes this Psalm as having through it all “A heartbeat of God’s forgiveness, mercy and love”. A heartbeat that keeps calling us back to who God is. A heartbeat that desires to beat the same way in our lives, so that others might see the Divine is us too.
Romans 14:1-12 – It’s Not All About You
Let us not use this passage to have a go at meat-eaters, vegetarians or vegans in our congregations, please! This is no proof-text for any dietary preference, of course, but rather a lesson in judging others generally.
The passage could equally be applied to those who believe their view of Scripture is better than another’s, or that their grasp of politics is more ‘right’, or those who agree with them on the chairs/pews battlefield are ‘correct’ and the others are wrong. For all such categorisations, the passage here is applicable.
Who are you to pass judgment? asks Paul. Who are you to think that the you are numbered amongst the ‘godly’ and others are not? Indeed, it is not about us at all.
“We do not live to ourselves… – we live to the Lord!”
How does this fit in with our theme this week of forgiveness?
Can you see yourself amongst those whose ears are burning at Paul’s words? Is there someone – not like you – from whom you need to seek forgiveness?
Matthew 18:21-35 – Forgive, Forgive And Forgive Again
Picture it – a new app on the iPhone App Store (other smartphones are available) called “Matthew18”. It’s great. Every time someone sins against you, you simply tap on their name and their count goes up by one. As soon as they get to 77, you don’t have to forgive them any more!
Is that really what Jesus had in mind here? Of course not! This is not a literal number, so pedantic discussions about whether the true text is “Seventy-seven times” or “Seventy times seven” become immaterial. Jesus was simply saying “over and over again”. For those who care about such things, “Seven” was in those days a number which had a sense of ‘completeness’, so “70+7” and “70×7” both meant “a completeness of completenesses” or simply “never ending”.
Forgiveness is at the very heart of what it means to be church. For if a church is to offer anything different from the world, it must reveal Christ. Where two or three are gathered together in Jesus’ Name, there is bound to be a disagreement! Therefore forgiveness is essential, and where there is forgiveness, so there is the presence of Jesus in their midst.
What do you understand by forgiveness? What, indeed, do you understand by sin?
Perhaps one understanding of forgiveness is the sense of letting go, especially of a sin against you. If someone has sinned against you, what is needed for you to let go of it? This is not saying that forgiving is the same as ignoring or forgetting – far from it; for the sake of good order, some sins (most sins?) will have consequences which must be addressed, but once dealt with, moving onwards is important in order to repair the relationship.
Why do we love to keep tabs on how people have wronged us? Why do we take pride in warming to our theme of judgment of a person by saying “And here’s another thing”? Why do we, even as Christians, continue to hold grudges, even years after an event?
Forgiveness is not about seeking power, or gaining the upper hand, it is about restoring right relationships. Indeed, forgiveness is less an act but more a process. A process that requires serious commitment. Perhaps we could translate “Seventy-seven times” as “Seven days a week”.
Forgiveness is therefore a sign of church, a sacred sign – in some churches the rite of confession and absolution is even called a sacrament.
That is why, in every church service, gathered together or dispersed online, we need to include confession, forgiveness and sharing in the peace. As God’s forgiven people, we can better worship God as the united Body of Christ.
Grace and peace,