“They said to one another, ’Alas, we are paying the penalty for what we did to our brother; we saw his anguish when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen. That is why this anguish has come upon us.’ Then Reuben answered them, ‘Did I not tell you not to wrong the boy? But you would not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.’ They did not know that Joseph understood them, since he spoke with them through an interpreter.” Genesis 42:21-23, NRSV
Here are Joseph’s brothers agonizing over what they did to their brother many, many years before. And they have no idea that Joseph is there listening and understanding what they are saying. The brothers are in anguish over their guilt. It has hung over them for years. In the heat of the moment, they did something awful. They did not think about how it would torment them for years on end. They did not think about the guilt they would feel. It just looked so satisfying to finally take revenge.
In a recent political debate, the candidates were asked about water-boarding and whether it should be considered torture. Some of the candidates expressed support for water-boarding and more. Do they not think of the toll that such actions take on those who are forced to implement them? What about the soldier, the interrogator, who must carry out the torture? What an awful burden to put on them. Can they ever get over having done such a thing to another human being? Someone who also has a mother and father and a family? Another person who eats and sleeps and sings and prays? How do we get over causing extreme harm to another human being? It’s not easy, whether the person was family, friend, or enemy. Violence and revenge are one thing in theory and quite another in practice.
We think about Joseph and his burden of what has been done to him by his brothers. But there is also the burden borne by the brothers of their shame and guilt and regret. Lent is a time for us to think about the reconciliation we need in our lives. Maybe for something we have done. Maybe for something that has been done to us. Either way, God’s love can be healing.
We all have our burdens to bear. We can’t go through this life without sorrow and regret. Because we are human, we make mistakes. We wait too long. We say too little. We miss an opportunity. We make the wrong choice. May we be compassionate with ourselves and with others and tend to the process of healing. We are given Jesus as our guide. Amen.