In this chapter we find Joseph finally making peace with his brothers. It is a terribly emotional scene, full of tears and embraces. Verse 15 tells us that after Joseph reveals who he is and spends time kissing them and weeping with them, his brothers “talked with him awhile”. I’m sure that was a long conversation, full of admissions of guilt, repentance and the acknowledgment that it has been way too long. Finally, when the baggage is completely unpacked, they become brothers again and there’s a lot of catching up to do. Joseph hears about the wives, sons and daughters of each one, about who is the better farmer or hunter, and what the old town looks like today. It is a joyous occasion and one that wouldn’t be possible without the power of forgiveness.
I have to admit as I read this that it became more real to me than ever before. Of course, as we get older and grow in knowledge of God’s Word, different passages that we haven’t read in a while take on a whole new life. Perhaps for me, it is simply because I have brothers who live far away and every time we get together it is a joyous occasion. We truly celebrate what it means to be husbands and fathers and what it takes to lead in our homes. We affirm each other’s success and admire how each other has grown. All of these emotions are so accessible in this story and I can only imagine how Joseph has longed for this moment…how he has dreamed about it, and how he probably never thought it would ever be possible.
Amidst all of this, I see something that is speaking to me as a leader. While I do believe that we can’t put leaders up on pedestals, I believe that leaders have to hold themselves accountable. We simply have to be the ones to step out in faith first. The way I see Joseph doing this is in how he forgives his brothers. What he essentially says is, “thank you for your apology, but please don’t lose anymore sleep over it. Rather, join me in celebrating because it is obvious that this was a part of God’s plan to bless all of us in a time of great hardship.”
Now, I don’t know if he actually felt like that. I’m inclined to believe that he could have and probably did still have some very real hurt deep inside that was always in danger of bubbling to the surface. However, realizing the great influence inherent in his position, he must have recognized that in order to get beyond it, someone was going to have to make a gesture toward the other. A great gulf, caused by his brother’s actions, still existed between them, and the one who was offended (Joseph) realized that the only chance of true reconciliation with them was for him to step into that space and bridge the gap.
The connection to what Christ did for us in reconciling himself to us is obvious, but perhaps not so obvious is the leadership that is shown in Joseph. It may seem like I’m grasping at straws, but I can’t get over this one verse…
Then he sent his brothers away, and as they departed, he said to them, “Do not quarrel on the way.”
I find that to be so amazing because in the midst of an episode where Joseph could have excused himself from the responsibility of fixing everybody’s lives for one day, he recognizes something in his brothers: they still fight all the time. They still argue and it disrupts their unity. Joseph, recognizing this, realizes that in that moment, he needs to use his new-found influence with them to help them. In fact, I would suggest that a part of the reason for his forgiveness is so that he can earn the right to speak into their lives. By removing the barrier between them, he earns enough leverage to be able to help them with a problem that has gone on for too long. In this moment, Joseph quickly moves from the position of martyr to that of a spiritual father because he is a leader, and leaders always step up. When the going gets tough, leaders always stand in the gap.
I am in awe of this man and am challenged by his behavior. What grace must have been afforded to him and what humility must be in his possession. If I am to ever imagine playing on that kind of level, I have to fully internalize one very central idea: it’s not about me. Guess what? It’s not about you. It’s about God and his glory and we have a part to play in that. Whether you’re a leader or not, God is looking for people to stand in the gap. It’s how healing happens. Jesus modeled it on the cross and said, “if anyone wants to be my disciple, he must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) In short, it’s what followers of Christ do. Freely we have received, and freely we give. Freely we forgive, because freely we have been forgiven.