“Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them.”
Do you recognize your “brothers” and “sisters”? One of the chief themes of the story of Joseph – and indeed of the whole Bible – is the connectedness of the people of God. In the story of Joseph, we learn whether this chosen family will remain together or not. We learn whether the old ways of betrayal and violence – the ways of Cain – would rule over this family, too.
The old animosities are present. Joseph locked up the whole bunch of them. He gave them a taste of their own medicine. Here was a new pit, big enough for ten brothers.
And he could overhear his brothers arguing among themselves, blaming each other. Reuben said, “Did I not tell you not to sin against he boy? But you did not listen.” It was a classic case of, “I told you so.”
This was a troubled family with a troubled history. It was full of people who could not seem to get along. There was jealousy and criticism. And yet the family began to bind together, as we shall see, through trial and tribulation.
It was a famine that brought them all together again.
And Joseph had a decision to make about his family. Was he still a member of this chosen family or not? Because if he was to be a part of this family, it would require something very important from him. He would be tasked with the heavy work of forgiveness. This burden fell upon him.
Four-hundred years before God gave the Law through Moses, Joseph had to decide whether to live it. In this way, the Law really is eternal. “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:17-18).
And so the question remains, do you recognize your brothers and sisters? The people of God have always been a family. They were a family in the days of Joseph. And they are a family today. “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19-20).
The church is a family. We are brothers and sisters. You can find a lot more evidence of this in the New Testament. Ask me about it if you want to know more.
And yet sometimes churches don’t seem much like a family. The recognition of the brothers and sisters does not seem to occur, and members speak “roughly” to one another, not in disguise but in all seriousness. And brothers and sisters are quite happy sometimes to walk away altogether from their church families over trivial issues. We’ve had this happen in our own church family, and recently.
But the binding of the household of God was never far from the mind of Jesus. We are to forgive our brothers and sisters in Christ as Joseph forgave his own brothers and sisters. Jesus told us reconciliation with our “brothers” is more important even than formal worship. “First be reconciled to your brother, and then come offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).
Jesus commanded his disciples to love one another as he loved them – with selfless service and patience. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
And the story of Joseph and his brothers gives us a picture of the people of God, and of the church. We are a family, siblings in Christ, and we fracture ourselves from time to time. And the long journey of our lives of faith can’t be separated from how we treat each other.
I have met many Christians who have been disgruntled with their churches – with their brothers and sisters. I’ve been one of them on numerous occasions! But unless some faith-killing doctrinal issue is involved, the answer is not to abandon one another.
There is much that could be said here, and it requires sensitivity. But the story of Joseph and his brothers in these chapters is the first biblical sign of the eternal binding together of the chosen people of God as a family. We are bound together despite all our efforts to split apart.