The cable network AMC has a wonderful tag line that says “Story Matters Here.” Shows on the network include Mad Men, The Walking Dead, and one I’ve recently begun to watch, Breaking Bad.
Here’s the premise of Breaking Bad:
Walter White’s story begins with Walter standing in the middle of the New Mexico desert without his pants on. It’s quite dramatic, and the viewer is wondering how in the world he got there. The next scene flashes back to three weeks earlier to tell us how Walter made it to that desert. We learn in the first episode of the first season that Walter is a high school chemistry teacher with a wife, a special needs son, and a baby on the way. He’s lived a rather average life. Living on a teacher’s salary is not always easy, so Walter takes a second job at the local car wash to make ends meet. One day, he begins to struggle with a nagging cough, passes out at his car wash job and ends up at the hospital where a battery of tests are run. The discovery is made that he has terminal cancer. Fearing that he’s made no provision for his family, he turns to making drugs to make fast money. I know, not a great story line for a somewhat Christian blog, but AMC does a masterful job telling Walter’s story. Each episode of the series begins at the end of the story, and then goes back to tell the story.
I can’t think of the tag line “Story Matters Here” without thinking about the Bible. The Bible is God’s story, and there is no greater story in the world, nor is there a story that matters more. The Bible tells some amazing stories, too. The bible tells stories of incredibly normal people who do some pretty incredible things. Makes me think there’s hope for me yet.
One of the great stories is the story of Joseph. Let me review it briefly. Joseph story begins in Genesis 37, and is the 11th son of Jacob, the great patriarch of the Hebrew nation, but he’s the first son of Jacob’s treasured wife Rachel, and that makes Joseph very special in his father’s eyes. Not so in the eyes of his 10 older brothers. They see him as the spoiled, tattle tale younger brother. Of course, their father hasn’t helped matters much. He did give Joseph a “coat of many colors” to signify their special relationship with each other. It wasn’t necessarily the coat that sealed the deal for his brothers, but the fact that Joseph had a couple of dreams, and he thought it necessary to share the content of the dreams with his brothers. Long story short—both dreams showed his ten brothers and his father bowing down to him.
The rest of the story goes something like this:
- Older brothers get mad at Joseph and sell him into slavery.
- Joseph is taken to Egypt and sold again to Potiphar, a captain in Pharaoh’s palace guard.
- Joseph excels in Potiphar’s house and becomes chief steward.
- Potiphar’s wife takes a shine (if you know what I mean?) to Joseph.
- Joseph resists, and is eventually charged with rape.
- Joseph is thrown in prison. Languishes in prison for two years.
- Pharaoh has a dream. Only Joseph is able to interpret the dream. Wins his release from prison.
- Pharaoh elevates Joseph to Prime Minister in Egypt.
- Famine hits the region.
- Joseph’s brothers show up hunting food. They don’t recognize Joseph, but he recognizes them.
So, Joseph decides to have a little fun at their expense.
“You’re a bunch of spies!” he exclaims.
“No, way, my Lord. We’re brothers and honest men (ha! Ha! Ha! Joseph thinks). We just came to buy food.
“No, you’re spies!” he persists.
“No,” his brothers respond. “There are twelve of us. Our youngest brother remains at home with our father, and one brother is no more among us.”
Joseph says, “Prove it to me. One of you go get your younger brother and bring him here. I’ll keep nine of you in prison here (probably the same prison he was imprisoned in—oh, the irony!), while one of you goes back to Canaan to fetch the youngest.”
Joseph has them all put in prison for three days to let them think it over. They lament this is all happening because of what they did to Joseph about 17 years earlier. A guilty conscience hangs around for a long time. The brothers hadn’t dealt with the guilt of what they had done to Joseph. That’s what guilt does to us. It eats at us until we deal with it in a healthy way. Edgar Allan Poe’s epic short story The Tell-tale Heart reflects the depths to which unresolved guilt can lead us. Poe’s narrator has murdered an old man and hidden his body under the floor boards of his home. The police come, and all the narrator can hear is the beating of the old man’s heart. Louder and louder it grows, ringing only in his ears, until he breaks down and confesses to the police. That’s where Joseph’s brothers find themselves.
The brothers eventually bring not only their younger brother, but their father and all their families to settle in the Egyptian area of Goshen. Joseph reveals himself to them all. They have a grand family reunion, and Jacob and all his progeny flourish under Joseph’s watchful care. Then, Jacob dies.
Returning from the funeral, the brothers fear that Joseph will now take his revenge. Though they’ve been living in Egypt for 17 years, and Joseph has cared for them, the brothers believe the bad blood still exists. Joseph had forgiven them. Seventeen years earlier, the brothers stood before him and he revealed who he was and said, “Don’t worry. God sent me here to save you and many others. Don’t be mad at yourselves for selling me into slavery. It’s all good. It’s a God thing” (Genesis 45 paraphrase). The problem was they couldn’t forgive themselves. Their guilt kept them from receiving the very thing that would reconcile them to Joseph. Guilt kept them from accepting their own forgiveness. Guilt kept them from experiencing grace, and grace is the only thing that can break bad blood.
Forgiveness is a gift that must be both extended and received. Joseph’s story foreshadows the story of Jesus Christ, who came to extend God’s forgiveness to us. Forgiveness is grace, and as such, can never be earned. It is a gift from the heart of God, and it must be a gift from us to others. The situation doesn’t demand it, the world doesn’t expect it, and the guilty don’t deserve it, but we do it anyway. Because that’s what Christ has done for us. But, there is also the matter of receiving the gift of forgiveness. We have to believe we’re really forgiven. Until we come to the point that we accept forgiveness, we’ll run away from that which will give us peace—and that’s our reconciliation to Christ. Rick McCarley tells the story of an attorney, who after studying on several scriptures, decided to cancel the debts of all his clients that owed him money for more than six months. He drafted a letter explaining his decision and its biblical basis and sent 17 debt-canceling letters by certified mail. Sixteen of the seventeen letters were returned, unsigned and undelivered. Why? Because the clients refused to sign for them and open the envelopes. They were afraid the attorney was suing them for their debts. In their fear, they ended up running away from his forgiveness.
May I offer two challenges to consider: First, we need to check our list. What list, you ask? The list we keep with the names of those we have yet to forgive. We all keep one, right? There’s bad blood, and the only thing that will break the bad blood is forgiveness. Joseph didn’t keep a list. He let it go because he saw God working even in the bad parts of life, and that takes grace. What list needs offering to the Lord? Who do we need to go to and offer our forgiveness?
Second, we need to accept forgiveness. Some of us need to accept the fact that God has forgiven us in Jesus Christ, and others need to accept the forgiveness that someone else has attempted to extend, but for whatever reason, whether we can’t forgive ourselves, or we can’t get past the pain, we’ve not accepted the gift that’s been offered. So, the bad blood festers, and it will eventually destroy us. Is it so hard to believe that God loves us unconditionally? For 17 years, Joseph’s brothers couldn’t believe they’d been forgiven. How long have you been holding out accepting your own acceptance?
Joseph’s is a compelling story…and…story matters here. Mine matters…and…your’s matters. May both our stories be a story of forgiveness…both receiving and extending.
Until next time, keep looking up…