After burying his father, Joseph went back to Egypt. All his brothers who had come with him to bury his father returned with him. After the funeral, Joseph’s brothers talked among themselves: “What if Joseph is carrying a grudge and decides to pay us back for all the wrong we did him?”
So they sent Joseph a message, “Before his death, your father gave this command: 'Tell Joseph, Forgive your brothers’ sin—all that wrongdoing. They did treat you very badly. Will you do it? Will you forgive the sins of the servants of your father’s God?'” When Joseph received their message, he wept.
Then the brothers went in person to him, threw themselves on the ground before him and said, “We’ll be your slaves.”
Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid. Do I act for God? Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people. Easy now, you have nothing to fear; I’ll take care of you and your children.” He reassured them, speaking with them heart-to-heart (Genesis 50:14-21, MSG).
Joseph spoke heart-to-heart with the brothers who had sold him into slavery. He reassured them that even though what they had done had come from evil it had brought about great good–life for many people. When he received their message of repentance, he wept. It was not their repentant message that made Joseph weep. He had forgiven them long before the message. It was just the fact that they were there. It did not matter that it was a famine which brought them into his presence in a time of need. It did not matter. The brothers he had forgiven in his heart so long ago were there. Joseph extended grace where none had been extended to him.
Jesus explains in Luke 6:35-36 that we are to “love our enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Joseph did all of this. He extended mercy when others would have never forgiven. He realized God's purpose in what his brothers had done. At the time it had wounded Joseph so much to be sold, but the good character that had been instilled in Joseph rose through the years that followed to forgive time and time again. When faced with the cause of his pain, Joseph wept in relief that he could now love them freely.
When we are devastated by someone's action, we have a choice what to do with the hurt and the bitterness. If we allow that hurt to define who we are, that pain can isolate and immobilize us. We find ourselves in bondage to our bitterness and hate. It directs our lives, and consumes our waking and sleeping moments. Jesus wants us to be free of the controlling pain of unforgiveness. The Holy Spirit invites us to forgive so that we might be free from its bondage. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,” Paul writes (2 Corinthians 3:17). God does not want us in bondage to our hurt. Just as Joseph we, too, have the freedom and the power to forgive.
Are we ready to be released from the bondage of resentment, bitterness, anger, hurt, frustration, and all that claims a hardened heart? If we choose to forgive, His power will enable our choice and transform our heart. We can live in the freedom of that forgiveness just as Joseph lived in his freedom and wept for joy that those who had hurt him were in his presence. We can love as Joseph loved his brothers. We can love as Christ loved and forgave us. Heart-to-heart freedom will not just be something that we desire. It will be real.