Messenger October 2017- The Gospel According to Joseph
By Andrew Melton
‘To whom much is given, much is required.’
A quick Google search of this quote reveals that it has been attributed variously to presidents (John F. Kennedy), military generals (Douglas MacArthur), professional athletes (Swin Cash and Dwayne Wade), and poets (Maya Angelou). I could go on about the biblical illiteracy of the world generally, but I won’t. At least not at this moment. In fact, this quote comes from Luke 12.48 in the midst of Jesus’ teaching on being watchful and faithful.
Whilst this is a bit of Scripture from the New Testament, one of the great examples of putting this into practice comes from the Old Testament—particularly from the life of Joseph. You may remember that after Joseph’s family come to Egypt to escape famine in Canaan, Joseph’s father Jacob dies in Egypt. Jacob’s passing causes no end of consternation and worry amongst Joseph’s brothers. They remember very well the wrongs they did to Joseph when they were younger. They also know very well that Joseph is now the top official in all Egypt and has the power to do with them whatever he wishes. So in Genesis 50.15 Joseph’s brothers pose this question to themselves: ‘What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?’
The magnitude of the answer that occurs to them and the prospect of judgment being meted out truly terrifies them. So they decide to defer to Joseph’s status, to demonstrate to Joseph his superiority and authority over them. In verse 18 the brothers come before Joseph and throw themselves at his feet, saying ‘We are your slaves!’
Joseph has a number of options at his disposal. First, and perhaps most obvious, he can acknowledge their subservience and say, ‘Thank you very much, my officials will determine your slave-duties and be on your way.’ Alternatively, Joseph could say, ‘Oh nonsense, you are my brothers not my slaves. But since you did do all those terrible things, Pharaoh King of Egypt will require of you a higher tax than the other people of Egypt.’ Perhaps we can almost imagine Joseph forgiving his brothers, but then surely he would add on a stern warning: ‘If you do anything of this nature again, if I am harmed by you in any way, the full weight of my office and the might of this kingdom will descend on you with swiftness and without prejudice.’ Joseph could make them slaves, require reparation of some sort, make certain it never happens again, or some combination of these.
Joseph’s actual response in Genesis 50.19-21 is beyond my imagination: He says to his brothers, ‘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.’ Beyond forgiveness, which is clearly implied, Joseph becomes his brothers’ comforter (‘don’t be afraid’), patron and provider (‘I will provide for you and your children’).
Why, we may ask ourselves, would Joseph respond in this way? I think the answer is found in Luke 12.48. Joseph had been given much, even in the midst of some really terrible circumstances. And what’s more, Joseph had been graciously given these things by God. Grace had been poured out on him and he had been blessed despite the evil intentions of his brothers; how could he do other than to give graciously in return? This is the essence of the gospel, the good news Jesus brings. Even though we have sinned and done evil as Joseph’s brothers had done, even though we ought to be subjected to punishment or required to pay back every wrong deed we have done, Jesus offers us grace and forgiveness.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all our sin!
And to whom much grace and forgiveness have been given, much grace and forgiveness are required.