Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Messiah Lutheran Church
Trinity 4 (June 27, 2010, revised from 2004)
TITLE: “The Greater Joseph, The God of Mercy”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for this morning is from the Gospel lesson just read. Our theme is the mercy of God as seen through the eyes of the story of Joseph and his brothers and Jesus comments about the mercy of God.
Joseph and his brothers had history. Imagine having your own brothers wait to kill you, then decide to send you into slavery, then lie to your father and mother and say you were dead. Then imagine them keeping the secret for years and years and years. Imagine the grief that your parents would feel. Your mother dies of a broken heart at her lost son, dead so many years. How would you feel? What kind of payback would be in your mind and heart?
For you survived. In fact, God was with you, so that you not only survived, but came through every tough situation and ended up smelling like a rose. You survive, and your betrayer brothers languish. It seems God has a sense of justice about him after all.
And here in our Old Testament reading it all comes down to one moment. Father is dead; mother is dead; Joseph is the viceroy of Egypt. Here Joseph has that one chance, the moment of truth. What will he do? Will he kill them for the dogs they were, or will he play the nice guy and let bygones be bygones? But they couldn’t rely on his goodwill, so they concoct a story about how their father commanded him to forgive his evil brothers. Even after all those years and all that time, they just had to manipulate and assume the worst in Joseph, because they knew what they themselves would do in the same situation.
Joseph, however, surprises them with his great confession of faith. Am I in the place of God? It is as if Joseph said, who am I to judge you? You are a sinner as much as I, and rather than give you what you might deserve, I will show mercy to you, out of my great love for my father and for you. Joseph does what they could not. He forgives, and shows mercy at the one time they needed it most.
It’s a beautiful story, and one where we can all learn a lesson about forgive and forget, especially when it comes to families. For it is our families, the ones we love the most, that we have the hardest time forgiving. They know us. They know our weaknesses and faults. When family members sin against you, it cuts twice as deep, for they know how to hurt you. Forgiving a spouse or a child or a parent is the hardest thing to do, because deep down we all believe, “But they should KNOW better!” That is what makes Joseph’s forgiveness so moving; we could hardly even believe doing it ourselves.
That is why Jesus, the greater Joseph, takes it one step farther. For you see, Jesus is Joseph. He is the favored son, born into our own flesh and blood. He is the one who lived with us, and who only wanted what was best for us sons and daughters of Adam. He was baptized into our sin, took on our very humanity. So how did we brothers and sisters of Jesus treat him? He was mocked and maligned his whole life by the very people who should have greeted him with open arms. They plotted to kill him, and an uncaring government went along with it. And when Jesus’ moment of truth came, would his disciples stand with him? No, they all forsook him and fled. He was left alone, in the pit like Joseph himself.
Now of course, you know that we’re not just talking about the disciples here. We’re talking about you and I. Every time we put ourselves above another of God’s children, we are playing God. Every time you assume that you are more righteous than another, and that this justifies your sinful actions, you are playing God. When you condemn those whose lives have not gone as well as yours, even if it were their own fault, you are playing God. But you are not playing the God of mercy and love, no, you are playing a false god of judgment and hatred, one who seeks not the good of others but your own good. You are, in a word, acting the hypocrite.
But what Jesus does for you and I today is far greater than our false judgments and condemnations of each other. For when he says show mercy, forgive, do not condemn, and the like, he is really painting a picture of Himself. Jesus is the one who, like Joseph, shows mercy to his sinful brothers and sisters. He is the one who does not give you what you deserve. When you deserve to be held accountable for your misdeeds, he forgives you. He is the one who does not condemn you, but sets down the stone of the Law that has been crushing you, and lifts you up.
Why does all of this matter to sinners like you and I? It matters because when Jesus paints a picture of Himself, even by showing us Himself in others like Joseph, Jesus is drawing us into the very mind of God Himself. As the Scriptures themselves say, God is love. God loves to reveal His mind to you chiefly in showing mercy and pity.
When Joseph finished forgiving his brothers, he said to them: “Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. This is God’s promise to you even today. He promises that he will provide for you, first by forgiving your sins, second by bringing you life in His name, and finally, by comforting you with His Word and Spirit.
So now, receive the very mercy of God in your mouth and soul by the body and blood of His Son, Jesus. He is your life and your salvation, and He will care for you in all of your times of need. Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith, unto life everlasting. Amen.