‘[Jacob] said, ‘I’m convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.’’ Genesis 45:28
As we continue to read through Joseph this summer, today we reach what could be considered the climax of the story. Joseph reveals who he is to his brothers and is reconciles them to himself after witnessing their repentant actions in the previous chapters. The way that Fr Mike and I usually describe the word ‘repentance’, is that it means to ‘change direction’; before we repented we were going in one direction but then, in repenting, we say we’re not going to go in that direction anymore, we’re going to go another way. The Greek word we translate as repentance is ‘meta-noia’, literally to ‘think again’, but used in the sense of to ‘change direction’, or to ‘change ways’.
In the previous few chapters, it became clear that Joseph’s brothers had repented. They may not have said sorry but they changed their ways, the same brothers who had thrown Joseph into the pit were now willing to sacrifice themselves for Benjamin. They were willing to do anything to protect him. The brothers had repented. Joseph sees this, he sees that his brothers have grown and changed their ways. He sees this and is so overwhelmed that he weeps loudly (45:2), he’s overcome in this instance not by seeing them again but by seeing that they would give themselves up for their brother, by seeing that they had repented. He quickly tells them everything that God was able to do through him, and promises that they will be provided for and then throws his arms around his brothers, weeping over them, in a heart-warming moment of reconciliation. The brothers return to Jacob and tell him about Joseph and he brings the family to Egypt. So, Josephs brothers had repented and Joseph had reconciled them to himself. You know, it’s amazing what happens when people repent. Repentance is one of the greatest gifts we’ve ever been given. The opposite is also, sadly, true. It’s amazing what people will do when they think it’s too late to repent or too late to change directions. Actually I think we’ve seen a whole war being fought by a man who refuses to change his direction at the moment. It’s never too late to change, you’re never too far gone, even Joseph’s brothers, who thought themselves murderers, had changed their ways, but perhaps equally amazing is what happens next. Joseph comes and embraces them. I know people in my family that refuse to speak because they broke their lawnmower 40 years ago. Yet Joseph forgives and reconciles with the brothers who tried to kill him. They’d have no right to ask for that forgiveness, they were scared when he first revealed who he was (45:3). It’s an outrageously generous, unwarranted act of reconciliation. And yet, this is what God does too, he comes with reconciliation when we repent; unwarranted forgiveness and reconciliation. He doesn’t just come in some figurative way, God literally came to us in the form of Jesus to tell us that it’s not too late, that we can repent and be reconciled to him. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, if you change your direction to be towards Jesus instead of towards what it was, God will reconcile us to himself.
But also we see in our Gospel reading how important reconciliation is for us with one another. Joseph’s act is something we should try our best, where possible, to repeat in our own lives, to stop, go and reconcile. Of course, that’s not the same as forgetting and if somebody has hurt you severely and this sermon is making you anxious, reconciliation does not necessarily mean letting people hurt you over and over, but rather that we should want to bring healing to broken relationships, like God does, like Joseph did with his brothers. I know for many that may be a big ask, I’m sure we could all think of somebody that we’d rather not reconcile with but perhaps none of us more than a man called Eric Lomax. You may have heard of Eric Lomax, there was a film made about him a few years ago called ‘the Railway Man’. Eric grew up before the Second World War and was absolutely fascinated with railroads. So signed up at a signals officer and was sent to Singapore. Unfortunately, he was captured by the Japanese, and many of you will know that the Japanese were not known for their kindness to their prisoners. In captivity, Eric Lomax was found to be one of several prisoners who had been working together to build a radio receiver, for which he was severely beaten and sent to an even worse prison where he was nearly starved to death. But Eric kept himself going with his interest in trains, he drew a map of the railroad that he and other prisoners were being used as forced labour to build. This one ray of light in his life was, however, destroyed when the Japanese found the map he had drawn and assumed he was intelligence gathering. One guard in the prison, a man named Takashi, became Eric’s torturer. Eric was starved, beaten and water boarded by this man, so severely that he bore deep psychological scars when he was eventually liberated and sent home. He was unable to talk to his family and, understandably, wanted to hunt down and hurt the people who had tortured him. Instead, however, one day, he found out that his torturer, Takashi had been so ashamed of what he had done in the war, that he had become an anti-militarist activist, he had built a temple and museum to try and tell people about what had happened and stop others from making the same mistakes. Takashi had repented. After some correspondence, the two men met, Takashi and Eric both wept, by the end, they were embracing and were both healed, remaining correspondents for the rest of their lives. Takashi had no right to expect reconciliation, it was totally unwarranted, yet Eric gave it.
I know it’s not as simple as that with all of us, I’ve had problems with reconciliation and repentance in the past, I know how heart-breaking those situations can be, but it’s what God did for us. It’s what Joseph did with his brothers, God brought Jacob and his family to Egypt, fulfilled his promises and brought blessing to both Egypt and Jacob’s decedents all through this act of repentance and reconciliation; an act which will be perfected fully in Jesus. So, perhaps this week you could try to reconcile with somebody, to heal a broken relationship or, if that’s not possible for any reason, to try to reconcile with them in your heart at least. I know that may be a big ask, but maybe it’ll help when you think of how far God went to reconcile you to himself. Let us remember that, and that it’s never too late to repent, ourselves. As we can see in this passage Joseph meets repentance with reconciliation and so to does God come with reconciliation when we repent. Amen (from Fr Jordan).