For the Saving of Many
Bible Passage: Genesus 50:15-21
They were deep in the heart of Mordor. Sam and Frodo finally made it to mount doom so that the One Ring could finally be destroyed, the evil of Sauron overturned, and their quest be completed. But Frodo couldn’t do it. He couldn’t drop the ring into mount doom, the ring had too much power over him and he claimed the ring for himself. In that moment all seems lost and it looks as if Sauron won. Gollum though followed Sam and Frodo up Mt. Doom, knocked Sam over and attacked Frodo, bit off his finger and claimed the ring for himself. Gollum is ecstatic that the ring is his again, he was dancing for joy, but in his dancing for joy he lost track of the edge and fell into the volcano along with the ring. The ring WAS destroyed. The evil of Sauron WAS overturned. The goal of the quest WAS completed.
That is what JRR Tolkien called a eucatastrophe. Where a catastrophe is a sudden turn of events which results in disaster, a eucatastrophe is a sudden turn of events which results in good. He said that it is the “sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy which brings tears.”
As Tolkien looked at the Bible he saw one big eucatastrophe in fact he said that the incarnation, Jesus becoming human and entering into history, was the eucatastrophe of human history. Because that was the moment where everything starts to change for the better.
There’s a grand eucatastrophe in the story of Joseph. I wonder if you can tell what it is.
On paper, Joseph shouldn’t have been in Egypt. He actually probably should have been dead. He was the second youngest of Twelve brothers, and his ten other brothers grew weary of him. Their father favored him, and to them Jospeh came across as arrogant. So they made a plan to kill him, but one of the brothers, Reuben, convinced them to put Joseph in a cistern with the intent to later rescue him. However, a caravan came by and the brothers sold Joseph to the merchants. They took Joseph’s coat covered it in blood, showed it to their Father to convince him he was dead. Jospeh shouldn’t have been in Egypt but he was.
And now over 20 years later he was reunited with his brothers because a devastating famine swept through the region and they headed to Egypt for food. But now Joseph and his brother’s father died and the brothers were afraid that maybe Jospeh had harbored a grudge against them and now since he was the second most powerful man in Egypt he could do what he wanted to them and probably get away with it.
So they sent this message to Joseph, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.”
I wonder what I would have done if this were the message that had been sent to me. I mean why wouldn’t they have asked for forgiveness themselves? Why wouldn’t they have apologized to my face? I mean if they can’t do that are they even deserving of forgiveness.
We almost expect a certain level of manipulation when it comes to forgiveness. We expect to have our egos stroked. We expect a certain kind of acts of penance. And if we do forgive we say things like it is because we need to be the bigger person. And all these reasons to forgive are really only appeals to the sinful human heart. And if we are looking for reason to forgive from places like that we will never actually forgive. And if we fail to forgive we do not truly understand what true forgiveness is and we put ourselves on a path to spiritual catastrophe.
Jospeh heard the message from his brothers and he wept. And his brothers thew themselves at his feet. If there was a moment for revenge, a slow play of slow plays, this was it. But no. He assured them. “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
I wonder why Jospeh wept. Maybe it was because as his brothers issued this obtuse apology he found himself in that cistern again and from a position of hindsight he could see how his life unfolded before him and how God used it for profound good. Maybe he thought about the ride on the caravan to Egypt. Maybe he thought about his time in Potiphars’ service and then how Potipahr’s wife accused him and it landed him in an Egyptian jail for 2 years. And how during that time the warden showed favor towards him, because the Lord was with him. Maybe he thought about he he stood before Pharaoh and interpreted his dream, because the Lord was with him. Maybe he recalled how Pharaoh made him second in command of all of Egypt, because the Lord was with him. And maybe he reflected how for seven years he gathered food to prepare for a seven year famine and there was enough food to share with the people of his region. And now his brothers were there with him.
From the perspective of the cistern and the jail and the famine things were not looking too good, but from the perspective of God and Joseph all of it resulted in a sudden and happy turn of events. And maybe all of it just pierced his heart and he wept because only by the working of God was it a eucatastrophe.
That certainly is a wonderful eucatastrophe, but it isn’t the only eucatastrophe and it’s not even the greatest. Listen, “So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.” Joseph completely forgave them. He completely released them from whatever was owed to him.
Here’s why this is the greater eucatastrophe: because this forgiveness between between brothers can come from the forgiveness which God provides. And that is a kind of grace which Joseph had become intimately acquainted with in during his life.
Our forgiveness is not earned by convincing God that we really mean it, our forgiveness is not earned by swearing to God that we will never do it again, our forgiveness is not even earned by our act of confession, rather it is earned by our brother Jesus for the wickedness we had perpetrated.
That’s why Tolkien calls the incarnation the eucatastrophe of human history, because we were on a collision course with spiritual catastrophe and it could not be stopped except by the sudden turn of events by God himself taking human flesh, by God himself living under his own law, and by God himself paying the price for our sin. We are forgiven, we are saved, we are reconciled to God because he himnself sends his own son to pay the sin debt for many sinners. And he rejoices in this. That is a eucatastrophe.
And that simple happy and sudden truth of free and full forgiveness is the truth which we celebrate today. We celebrate the fact that God in his grace caused the church to rediscover the eucatastrophe of his grace. Forgiveness is not reliant upon man’s heart, but it depends on God’s heart. He can’t be cajoled because he already freely gives.
So every time we forgive we celebrate the forgiveness in which we live. Every time we forgive we celebrate the forgiveness which our brother already has in Christ. Every time we forgive it’s a eucatastrophe. Amen.