Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 3

See: "Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Intro"
"Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 1"
"Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 2"

As Joseph lies in the pit, in his rejection and suffering, the way of forgiveness comes over him. It begins not by forgiving those who wronged him. This does not occur to him. It begins with a prayer that he be forgiven.
“Forgive me, he prayed [silently], not to God but to his brothers, though he knew this was absurd. There was no way out. There were no solutions. There was nothing to do, nothing to pray but May your will be done. . . .” (Stephen Mitchell, Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness)
It’s a prayer to let go of the ego’s thoughts about what should be, to open fully and unreservedly to reality just as it is.

Joseph finds it a helpful device to personify this reality as God. “Not what I want,” he prays:
“but what You want. I am not doing any of this, nor are my brothers. Whatever we think we are doing, we are all doing what is best in Your sight. We are all doing Your will, dear Lord, because we are all the work of Your hands.” (Mitchell)
Whether reality is personified in this way or not, the way of forgiveness is the ongoing recognition and re-recognition that control is an illusion. Yes, we have responsibilities, and we must tend to them, but this is the narrower context of our lives. In the wider context, there is no control. This is the transformational awareness that, it seems, must have come over Joseph in the pit.

Thus, when he is pulled out and sold to Ishmaelites, he doesn’t speak up.
“He could have cried out against his brothers and, with his considerable eloquence, tried to move the Ishamelites’ hearts to take him home, where his wealthy father would pay them a large ransom. But he didn’t utter a word.” (Mitchell)
The lesson here for us isn’t that we shouldn’t speak up in our own defense, protest injustices. Rather, it’s an invitation to feel our way into a more intuitive and receptive way of being. Joseph somehow intuited that what was happening was more – let us say, interesting – than being released back to his father. He could not have said why he felt that way.

Thus Joseph comes to serve Potiphar for some years. He rises to a position of being in charge of Potiphar’s affairs. He is falsely accused, and thrown in prison. Yet here again he does not speak up in his own defense.

He counsels some people in prison, and does so so shrewdly that at last Pharaoh seeks his counsel – his ability to see the sense in what doesn’t seem to make sense. And this, too, is a feature of the Way of Forgiveness. It is the way of hope – not hope in the sense of a thing wished for – but hope as the understanding that things make sense, however they turn out.

Joseph is made the Pharaoh’s viceroy, and his job is to plan for the future. Even as he spends his days in the complex calculations and strategies of food storage for a time of famine, he does so without a sense of rejection or resistance to what will come, but simply a sense of compassion for people that they be provided for, and not come to starve. Even as he plans for a future, he is living in wonder of each present moment.

The famine comes, and his brothers show up begging for food. After testing them with some devices, eventually he reveals himself to them. First, he has to prove he really is their brother Joseph. So he recounts to them their crime of throwing him in the pit, then selling him into slavery. It’s not what he wants to dwell on, but it’s something he would only know if he really were their brother Joseph.
“The next thing was to let these terrified men know that he had forgiven them, that he felt no anger or resentment, no residue from the event, and that he was standing before them with an open heart. Actually, forgiveness was an inaccurate word for what he was experiencing, since it implies that a magnanimous ‘I’ grants something to a not-necessarily-deserving ‘you.’ It wasn’t like that at all. He wasn’t granting anything or even doing anything. He realized that his brothers were guilty, but he also saw the innocence in that guilt.” (Mitchell)
The Way of Forgiveness is distinct from a discrete act of forgiving, for it is grounded in:
“the realization that there is nothing to forgive. His brothers simply hadn’t known what they were doing. And given the violence of their emotions, there was nothing else they could have done.”
He tells them, “don’t be troubled. Don’t blame yourselves.” He knows this reassurance won’t do much.
“His brothers would have to blame themselves; they wouldn’t be able to see their own innocence until their minds slowed down enough to understand their crime in the greater scheme of things. In the meantime, they would necessarily be grieved and angry at themselves, and they would suffer needlessly from a remembered – that is, from an imagined – past that they could neither retract nor change.”
So he speaks to them in terms they might understand. He says, “God sent me ahead of you to save lives.”

This is the language available for that time and culture for pointing to the illusion of control. The brothers never decided to hate the young Joseph’s arrogance – they simply found that they did. There was never a point of conscious decision to resent the particular selectivity of their father’s love – but resentment had arisen and consumed them nonetheless. Ultimately, it wasn’t they who had thrown Joseph into the pit, or sold him to Ishmaelites, but all the forces that made them into the sorts of human beings they were.

The Way of Forgiveness is the way that never needs to perform specific acts of forgiving, for it is based in the awareness that everything is always already forgiven.
“Everything, even the most painful experience, turns out to be pure grace.”
The Way of Forgiveness is thus also the Way of Hope – the only Way of Hope: the way of being present to the ineluctable wonder, beauty, mystery, and glory we cannot make and cannot mar.

May it be so. Amen.

See: "Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Intro"
"Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 1"
"Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 2"

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