For the week of January 6, 2007 / 16 Tevet 5767
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 47:28 - 50:26
Haftarah: 1 Kings / 1 Melachim 2:1-12
But Joseph said to them, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children." And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (Bereshit / Genesis 50:19-21)
It is common at this time of year to think about our lives and how we might better ourselves. I am sure that we all, if we looked back at the last 12 months, would find accomplishments and failures, good surprises and great disappointments. Whatever else we may have experienced this past year, I am sure that other people have not always met our expectations. In fact probably many of us have been severely hurt by others. Those hurts, if never resolved, can fester in our hearts and destroy our lives.
The concept of forgiveness is a key theme in the Scriptures. Not being an expert in comparative religions, I cannot assert with certainty that the Bible's understanding of forgiveness is unique, but from my life experience, I have never encountered anything quite like it anywhere else.
So crucial is this issue of forgiveness, Yeshua taught that God's forgiving us is dependent on our forgiving others:
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14,15).
Yeshua is clearly saying that if we want to be forgiven by God for our wrongs, then we must forgive others for the wrongs they have done to us.
Joseph, who lived over a thousand years before Yeshua, beautifully illustrates a lifestyle of forgiveness. Few of us have ever experienced the level of betrayal and malice that Joseph endured at the hands of his own brothers. Yet years later, when he found himself in a position of power in which he held the very lives of his brothers in his hands, he forgave them. Instead of paying them back for what they did to him, he provided for them and spoke kindly to them.
Joseph understood that it was not for him to avenge himself for the wrongs done to him. Justice was God's responsibility. He accepted his God-given place of responsibility of being their provider and loved his brothers as God wanted him to.
Joseph's example helps us to understand what forgiveness is all about. Through him we see that God calls us not to hold personal grudges against others or take God's place by punishing those who harm us. Forgiveness is like releasing people from their debts to us. Until we forgive it is as if they owe us something. Often what they owe us could not be paid back even if they wanted to. When we forgive, we allow ourselves to suffer the loss of being wronged with no further claim upon that person. When we forgive, we grant relational freedom to that other person.
As we forgive, according to Yeshua's teaching we put ourselves in a place where God will treat us the same way. We need to realize how destructive unforgiveness is. To think that God will hold us in the same kind of bondage that we can tend to hold others who wrong us, is a frightful thing. We are well advised to follow Joseph's example.
People wonder if forgiveness is something that should only be offered when others ask for it. But Yeshua also said,
And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. (Mark 11:25)
If we don't want God to hold anything against us, we must not hold anything against anyone else. This sounds extreme. It sounds extreme because it is. It's extreme, because it is meant to be. Our tendency to wrong one another is so great, that it requires an extreme solution. Extreme forgiveness has not come without a price. It cost the Messiah his life, so that we can be free from the consequences of our own wrongs. If God, through Yeshua, so forgives us, the least we can do is so forgive others.
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