Forgiveness Is Ridiculous. August 16

Forgiveness is Ridiculous

Genesis 45:1-15; Psalm 133; Romans 11:1-2a,29-32; Matthew 15:21-28

Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill United Methodist Church, and online; August 16, 2020

 

Do you get mad?  Really mad?  Your neighbor, whom you've spoken to eleven times about his dog, still allows Fido on your lawn to leave a mess?  Your friend cancels for lunch at the last minute, for the third week in a row?  Your sister uses your telling of an occasion of deep sorrow to launch into her usual diatribe about local politics instead of sympathizing with you? And once you're mad, justifiably mad, it's hard to set it aside.  It's much easier to remember your side of the argument, and all your reasons for being annoyed.  You deserve more respect.  There was no reason for the offender to be as mean as they were.  It becomes hard to imagine coming face to face with the person whom you're mad at, because you've focused on their failings and on their fault and you don't know what else you might say to them.  Depending on the intensity and utter wrongness of the offense, your anger can hang on for months, even years.  Utterly understandable, utterly righteous.  Perhaps you reserve such intense anger for situations somewhat removed from your personal life – for politicians, or people who think the world should be run differently from the way you think it should work.  Those angers are easily stoked and easily maintained.  There's something satisfying about maintaining righteous anger.  Mostly because it's good to be right.  It's good to be able to articulate clearly between right and wrong and to be clear that you are in the right and that others are wrong, so wrong that it's worth your deep emotion.

 

When we're in that state of righteous anger, the concept of forgiveness is indeed ridiculous.  Truth matters; justice matters; and it's so clear in your mind that you are on the side of truth and justice. 

 

Then we read of Joseph.  You remember Joseph.  Wronged so horribly by his brothers.  Sold into slavery and sent far from his home and his beloved father.  Gotten rid of, once and for all.  His brothers, of course, felt justified in their action of getting rid of him, because he was such a self-glorifying, utterly insensitive younger brother.  Joseph's anger against his brothers is completely understandable.  They ditched him.  They didn't kill him, but they sold him as if he were a donkey; they exiled him, and cared not what happened next.  Joseph might well have seethed for years in his anger and resentment for his brothers. 

 

Years pass.  Joseph rises from slave to courtier to second-in-command in Egypt.  The rest of his family – his father, his brothers, and their families – spend much time together, enjoying one another's company.  After many years, they fall victim to the devastating famine affecting the land of Canaan.  The brothers come to Egypt, where they hear there is food, and through an intricate series of events, they find themselves again in their brother Joseph's presence.  He has all the power in his hands.  He has food, he has guards at his attendance, he could have them all thrown in prison until their death.  Utterly justifiable behavior.  No-one would question such a decision. 

 

Instead, he offers forgiveness.  Ridiculous behavior.  Unjust, even.  Shouldn't they pay somehow for their betrayal of their brother?  Shouldn't they suffer because he suffered so? 

 

It's that element of time, again.  We aren't told what has happened in the hearts and minds of any of the brothers, Joseph included, in the years that pass between Joseph's time in the pit and his time in power.  We aren't told whether Reuben or Gad or Zebulon repented of their compliance in the crime of selling Joseph and lying to their father Jacob.  We aren't told of Joseph's change of heart, or of when he decided to let his righteous anger go and instead see the blessing his life had become.  But somehow it happened.  Joseph stepped back and decided that he'd claim the good he might find in life instead of focusing on the bad.  Asher and Dan might well have thought more than twice of their betrayal and deception, and were open to the reconciliation that Joseph offered.  Looking at the arguments, Joseph was totally in the right.  His brothers should not have given up on him, should not have sold him to the Midianite traders.  But the brothers also had a point.  Joseph was intolerable, utterly unaware of anyone else's feelings or perspectives as he bragged about his dreams and wore his flashy coat.  With time, with perspective, all could be forgiven. 

 

I don’t want to shortchange the power of anger.  Joseph names to his brothers that their harsh treatment of him was evil, even if God managed to extract something good from it.  Selling a human being into slavery is always evil, in Joseph’s time, and in all the time since then.  There is no goodness in ignoring or underemphasizing the truth that slavery is wrong and participating in selling another human is never justifiable.  The evil of slavery is worthy of our anger.  Anger is an appropriate and valid emotion toward our nation’s history of slavery and toward the human trafficking that is still happening in our cities and towns.  Anger is an appropriate and valid response to the racism that lingers from the years of slavery and limits our hopes of ‘liberty and justice for all.’  Anger is appropriately articulated in shouts and protests in the streets, marches and demonstrations, demanding better justice, demanding fair treatment, demanding that we live up to what we say we’re about when we name the inalienable right that all of us are created equal. 

 

Witnessing anger is uncomfortable.  We’d prefer that it not be so loud, so insistent, and so we speak of the value of peace and forgiveness and wonder why we all can’t just get along.  We quote today’s psalm: How good and pleasant it is when we dwell together in unity.  It is good and pleasant to dwell together in unity. But it is not a demand for plastering over differences or quieting noisy complaints.  Dwelling in unity is about finding a way forward together, including all voices and all concerns, listening to one another and caring about what a fair outcome would look like.  Anger dissipates with respect and acknowledgement of suffering. We can speak of forgiveness and the blessings it brings only if the wrong that is done is named and acknowledged as wrong.  You meant it for evil, says Joseph.  Joseph can let go and offer forgiveness because he allows himself to know that his brothers were indeed wrong.  

 

The musical Hamilton is based on the life story of Alexander Hamilton.  It is narrated by Aaron Burr, who killed Hamilton in a duel in 1804, and after the duel in the musical, after Burr has killed his colleague, his enemy, his political opponent since they were young, Burr sings of his mistake.  “I should have known the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me.”  That’s what makes forgiveness possible, the realization that the world is wide enough for us to coexist with those who have hurt us or angered us.   Like Joseph, we move away from the occasion of our anger and recognize that there is space for so many ideas, so many behaviors, we realize that we can exist, and probably even thrive, without needing to exact revenge on someone who hurt us. 

 

Behold, friends, it is good and pleasant when we can live together in unity.  Psalm 133 speaks to the peace discovered when we find a way past anger and annoyance and disagreement and meanness, to live together in unity, in peace.  This psalm is a proclamation that begins Jewish worship weekly.  It's a proclamation embedded in our own baptismal covenant, to be church together, with people of all ages, nations, and races.  We hope to live as community, a place where God's word and God's ways are lived out. 

 

In order for that to be a reality, we will decide to forgive. The ridiculous option of forgiveness is at the heart of forging unity and peace.  Because we do not agree, because we do mean and thoughtless things, because we see the solutions to the problems of the world so differently, but we get that it's not all about being right.  It's about relationships, living with and among people we love, we care about, people we'd like to keep connected with, even if they don't listen well, or if they fail to keep their word.  It's also about choosing to let go of anger, even righteous anger, toward those whom we share our lives with.  Injustice matters, and the world is wide enough for us to disagree without killing each other.  We can choose to love.  Even when we're right, it's not worth brooding in anger, or shame.  In such situations, forgiveness isn't ridiculous at all.  It's illogical perhaps.  But it is freeing.  It is our hope for tomorrow.  Amen.

 

Genesis 45:1-15

45Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. 4Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. 10You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ 12And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. 13You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

 

Psalm 133

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!

It is like the precious oil on the head,

    running down upon the beard,

on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.

It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion.

For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore.

 

 

 

 

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

11I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.

 

for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, 31so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. 32For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

 

Matthew 15:21-28

21Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

 

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