It’s got to be terribly frustrating to the enemy of our souls when God takes what the devil meant to harm us and turns it around to be for our benefit! I mean how would you feel if your best weapons turned out to harm you rather than your intended target!
Take physical death, for example. We humans avoid the topic as often as we can. The fear of death drives most of our selfishness and short-sighted choices. So, the fear of physical death is a powerful tool the evil one uses to keep us slaves to bad choices! And yet, physical death is also a “gift” to us! Are you constantly tripping over a particular weakness? Well, that’s not going to last forever. Physical death brings an end to pain and suffering in this life. AND, if we are wise enough to hear the wisdom of the Orthodox Faith, the constant remembering of our physical death is a powerful motivator to faithful living! The very thing the evil one meant to enslave all humanity turns out to be the very thing God uses to set us free!
Look at our lesson today in Genesis 49:33-50:26. We’ll just read a portion of the text, but I hope you read it all:
When Jacob finished charging his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed, and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people. Then Joseph fell on his father’s face, and wept over him, and kissed him. And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel; forty days were required for it, for so many are required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.
After he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had gone up with him to bury his father. When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil which we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died, ‘Say to Joseph, Forgive, I pray you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin because they did evil to you.’ And now, we pray you, forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him, and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Fear not, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he reassured them and comforted them.
We come to the death of our favorite deceiver, Jacob, whom God renamed Israel. And Joseph, his son buries his father. But, Joseph’s brothers are now terrified that Joseph will take revenge on them still. Even though Joseph has forgiven them and taken care of them during the famine, the conscience of these treacherous brothers still wound them and make them afraid. They still can’t believe Joseph really forgives them. But that’s what a guilty conscience does. It can’t let go of the wrong done because it can’t dare to accept love and forgiveness. What a horrible prison.
But Joseph reminds his brothers “Fear not, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” What sets Joseph free from any notion of revenge on his brothers is he recognizes that he isn’t God. It is God Who is able to judge rightly and completely fairly, not us. We always do well to leave judgment to God alone and exercise mercy and forgiveness. Knowing full well God’s love and forgiveness will probably mean that even those who have wronged us won’t get what we might think they deserve. And that’s OK! Besides, we don’t want God to give us what we deserve, do we? We want mercy. Then we should extend mercy to others.
Today, if you dare to believe that even the worst moments in your life CAN become the stepping stones to your peace and joy, then you are free to rely on God’s judgment rather than your own. You are free in every moment of your life to see the joy of the moment and not merely the fear and the pain. You are free to be Orthodox on Purpose!