February 24, 2019

7th Epiphany

John Ibanez, Deacon Postulant

I grew up with a brother that was a year-and-a-half older than me.  Any of you grow up with an. older brother?  Well, if you did then you know that it can be a real blessing that at times can become  a real challenge. Now being the older of the two, my brother, had the unique ability to manipulate me into doing almost anything. On one occasion he and his friends had created an airport in the sky.   They made the plane out of the trunk of a palm tree.  They dug out a hole in it for the pilot, and used some old  wood for wings.  On top of two different trees bout 20 feet high, they made wooden platforms, where this technological masterpiece was supposed to land after being hoisted up with ropes and tied to a branch.  What they needed  for this aviary experiment was a brave and courageous pilot who would navigate this plane from the platform where it was sitting to the platform awaiting the arrival that had been built in the opposite tree. So, my brother, knowing how vain and gullible I was, proceeded to pump me up with compliments of how courageous and brave I was, the bravest kid in the whole block.  That's how I became the first pilot of Ibanez Airways.

      In mid flight, halfway across to the landing pad  in the opposite tree, the branch on which the airplane was hoisted busted and down went the plane along with the pilot.  It is a miracle I  was not killed, but I did sustain a few cuts and bruises to the laughter of my brother and our neighborhood friends.  His usual modus operandi was to apologize a few days later.  I, however, was not going to forgive, I was going to get even.

     A few weeks later, my brother developed strep throat.  For whatever reason the medication prescribed was not available in oral form.  Neither was it an ointment to be rubbed on the skin.  It was to be self administered in the privacy of your own restroom.  I overheard my parents giving my brother his instructions, and I thought this is my opportunity.  No I did not mess with the medication, but only because I did not have access to it nor to some jalapeño peppers.  But in the ‘olden days’ of which I'm speaking there was no air conditioning and the screened windows were open to let in fresh air. 

     I gathered a few of our friends to come and watch, my brave and courageous brother, administer to himself this medication. We gave him a standing ovation, and he proceeded to beat the living daylights out of me.  The harder he hit, the louder I laughed.  My laughter stopped, however, when  our friends began to make fun of him.  This is when a profound remorse set in, and I realized how over the top my vengeance had been.

      That evening as I was undressing to go to bed, my brother noticed the bruises he had inflicted, he said “Oh, John I am so sorry, I did not know how hard I was hitting you."  This awakened a  deep remorse at what I had done to him, and we exchanged apologies. We also talked about when I fell from the plane, and apologies were given to me for that fiasco.  These acts of repentance, and willingness to eventually forgive were made possible by parents, grandparents, and extended family members - a community of living faith that modeled these behaviors for us, and placed on these ten and eight year olds  the expectation that they emulate the moral values they witnessed being done by the adults who sincerely valued the moral teachings  handed to them by the traditions of the Church Community to which they all belonged.

     I share these stories with you this morning because both the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures for this Sunday, as well as the gospel reading from the Gospel of Luke touch on the theme of reconciliation.  In the reading from Genesis, Joseph is forgiving his brothers for selling him when he was just a boy to a passing caravan of Ishmaelites.    Each generation of Israel’s founding family illustrates  their willingness to forgive.  Abraham (Sarah and Hagar), Isaac (Rebekah), Jacob (Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah), each found a way to resolve the dysfunction that tore them apart. In Genesis 25:9 Isaac and Ishmael bury Abraham, despite Abraham’s eviction of Ishmael and his mother Hagar at Sarah’s request. In Genesis 35:29 Esau and Jacob bury their father Isaac, despite Jacob’s stealing both Esau’s birthright and, with Rebekah’s help, his blessing from Isaac. In this passage we read of Joseph reconciling with his brothers, despite their malevolent attempt to kill him and their corrupt deal to instead sell him off to the Ishmaelites.

     While we get only a hint of the reconciliation between Isaac and Ishmael plus a few more details regarding Esau and Jacob’s reconciliation (Genesis 33:1-11), in Joseph’s story reconciliation is front and center, a major part of the drama. Of the thirteen chapters (Genesis 37, 39-50) that tell his story, four of them (Genesis 42-45 and a portion of Genesis 50) cover his reconciliation with his brothers.  That  four of the. thirteen chapters is devoted to making up with his brothers shows us how important reconciliation was to the authors of the Pentateuch.

    The Gospel reading complements the reading from Genesis by admonishing us to “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful…  Forgive, and you will be forgiven…A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

  In a world much in need of healing and reconciliation, what other lessons might there be about reconciliation, both for our personal and corporate lives?
     First, reconciliation is possible in even the worst of circumstances. Although his brothers wronged him, Joseph, after a bit of making their lives miserable, sought reconciliation with them. No matter what happened in the past, Joseph and his brothers know that, ultimately, relationship is primary. They choose not to let the past stand in the way of reconciliation. Grudges can too often destroy families.  They  can also. destroy relationships between nations.

     Second, reconciliation requires facing and telling the truth, no matter how difficult or painful it may be. Joseph referenced, but did not dwell on how he had been wronged. The text notes: “Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come closer to me.’ And they came closer. He said, ‘I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.” (Genesis 45:4-5). Realizing the effects of the famine on the future, not only does Joseph tell the truth about what happened in the past, he also tells the truth about how dire the situation is in the presentFor real reconciliation to take place, it is not enough to say I am sorry.  For a sincere reconciliation to take place it is important to converse and talk about all that took place.

In today’s world, this is the part that people often miss. They want reconciliation without the work of facing and dealing with the truth -- the truth about the past, the present, and the future. There can be no healing, no moving forward until the wounds of the past and their effect on the present and future are openly, honestly, and truthfully addressed. Jesus put it best, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Why stay stuck in the past when the truth will set you free?

     Third, Joseph does his part to make things right. He sends for his father, promising that he will provide for the entire family. Reconciliation involves action, not just words. Joseph did his part taking care of his family. The brothers did their part acknowledging that they had mistreated Joseph and honoring Joseph’s request to bring the family, including their father Jacob, to live in Egypt.  All repercussions from the injuries inflicted need to be discussed so that there be not a crumb left of recrimination.  For reconciliation to be effective, all aspects that can threaten to cause division and distance need to be discussed.  There needs to be a willingness to establish good relationship..

     Fourth, Joseph recognized God’s hand in his life. God is not a character in Joseph’s story. yet, Joseph recognizes God’s role in his life. He understands that everything that happened brought him to this moment of reconciliation and made it possible to him to bless many, including his family, Egypt, and nations beyond.

     Although the particulars of our stories may be different, the need for reconciliation is as necessary in today’s world as it was in Joseph’s day. In a world filled with so much pain and division, may we never cease to seek and do the work;  to do our part, whether at home with our family, at school with friends, in the workplace with our coworkers or in our nation, until reconciliation is a very present reality for one and all.

     And, when the pain that has been inflicted is so unbearable that we find it difficult to forgive, let us attentively listen to those words that echo through the ages and were uttered from the Cross: FORGIVE THEM FATHER FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY ARE DOING.