These words were written in response to thoughts and reflections on Genesis 37-50, with special emphasis on Genesis 45: 1-15.
The story of Joseph offers us a very different picture of the presence of God, the movement of God in our lives and in the world. Prior to the Joseph story, the work of God has been forthright and direct, with displays of awesome power. God tells Noah to build a boat and load up the animals and Noah does it. God opens up the heavens and rains falls for forty days. God closes up the heavens and the rain stops. God tells Abraham to offer his son as a human sacrifice, and he proceeds to do so until God miraculously intervenes. God combines the forces of nature with the authoritative word of Moses to inflict the plagues on Egypt and bring the Pharaoh to his knees. God piles up the waters of the sea so the Hebrew people can pass through and then brings the waters crashing down on the Egyptian army. Prior to Joseph God is a miraculous, intervening God whose work and power are undeniable. The only real choice people have is to participate in or to resist God’s power and presence and the work of his hand.
The narrative of Joseph is very different. The events of the story unfold page after page, chapter upon chapter. We witness the pride of Joseph, the intense hatred of his brothers, the passive inaction of Jacob. All of these dynamics collide in stories of intrigue and deception, each person choosing how they will act toward the other. And throughout it all, the name of God is not mentioned. God speaks to no one. God does not raise his hand to bring about any kind of miraculous intervention. The story continues until we reach this moment of encounter between Joseph and his brothers. This moment where his brothers do not recognize Joseph but Joseph most certainly recognizes them. It is a powerful, intriguing, and inviting human drama, pure and simple.
And yet, while the place of God in this story is intriguing, and perhaps discomforting, to be sure, God is there. Not in the foreground, bringing about grand and glorious acts or bringing the story to its inevitable conclusion, but God is there. Not speaking directly to the characters or making the reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers come to pass the way it should, but still God is there. God is there, but mysteriously in the background, as these human interactions occur and the twists and turns of fate and chance unfold. It is as if God is woven into the seams of the story, waiting to be discovered. In the end, Joseph realizes the hand of God that has been at work in some hidden way and played a role in the reconciliation with his brothers. And yet, we never forget that in this story there has always been the possibility that Joseph wouldn’t get it, and the story could go in a completely, different direction.
But Joseph does get it, and yet, he still has to act. He still has a choice to make. He still has to face his brothers and decide what he is going to do about his relationship with them. Joseph realizes that God, in subtle ways, has brought him to this place in his life. And that is an important realization. It makes this a crucial moment, a moment with promise, to know that God has been at work in all this, even if only now Joseph sees it. But still Joseph must decide if reconciliation will happen, and if it does, what it will look like.
And then there is this remarkable moment in the text where the brothers do not recognize him, but Joseph recognizes his brothers. This recognition of Joseph is certainly more than a physical one. In recognizing his brothers, Joseph also remembers. He remembers all that has happened to him at the hands of his brothers. But hopefully there is another recognition going on; Joseph recognizes the attitudes and actions in him that contributed in some way to their actions of the past.
And so here is one of the common moments of humanity that has the opportunity to become a moment that is uncommon, even holy. And that opportunity is there because of that subtle, behind-the-scene, presence of God. Here is a moment where change and transformation can happen in an encounter with others, an encounter with any manifestation of otherness. Like Joseph, we see clearly the reality of who the other is, and we decide what we want to do, how we want to respond to that reality. For in this encounter with the real other, we can encounter the realness, the honest truth about ourselves. And that honest self-truth always contains a mixture of light and darkness.
Here in this story we see an example of what genuine reconciliation is about. Reconciliation does not happen as an act of sheer will, where we muster enough courage to push through the hurt and offer some words of forgiveness and reconnection. Genuine reconciliation comes from recognizing and embracing the common humanity that I share with the ones who have wounded me. We reach a place where, at the same time, we see them as someone who has hurt us and as someone who is also a child of God.
To be sure, reaching this place is not easy. In fact, you might say that reaching this place is impossible, at least in human terms. Reaching this place takes something beyond ourselves. It takes the presence of a God that is working in subtle and mysterious ways, but a presence of God that is never silenced. And it is this presence that gives us a new perspective, a perspective that finds a way to see myself and the other as child of God.
And then this transformed perspective yields a transformed stance and transformed action. Reconciliation happens. I do it. Like Joseph, I make it happen. But I do so from this transformed place. I am not reconciled merely with a person who has hurt me and offended me. I am reconciled, I am always reconciled with a child of God who has hurt me and offended me.
Thanks be then to this subtle, almost hidden, but very real God whose presence brings about genuine healing and reconciliation.