by Rev. Fr. K. K. John
Forgiving: “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for
good,” Gen 50:20.
"Man proposes, God disposes," thus says an English adage. Is it
true and if true how far? Story of Joseph in the Bible is an
epitome of a forgiving mind, a proof that even if man decides to
hurt one's feelings or rob one's best part of life, nothing
shall ultimately prevail against what God has destined and
therefore no need to grudge against those who are bitter and
lack discernment. God is powerful to convert even the most
sinister plots of the unrighteous for the good of righteous.
David said, 'Because God is his strength of life, he shall fear
none. When the wicked came against him to eat his flesh, they
stumbled.' "Though an army encamp against me, my heart will not
fear," Ps 27: 1-3. "The Lord is at my side, I will not fear.
What man can do to me?" Ps 118.6.
Willie and Millie were
distantly related but perennially hostile neighbors. The two
initiated frequent fights over frivolous matters. Millie had a
piece of land (corner) with many fruit-bearing Jack and Mango
trees in it. He planned to construct a hospital in that site.
One night, Willie out of rage engaged labors and cut down big
trees so as to incur loss to Millie. Not knowing what happened,
Millie brought workers to cut down the trees to mark foundation
for the proposed hospital. As they approached the site, Willie
hilariously watched Millie's reaction to damage of his property,
wanting to ensue a fight. Quite unexpectedly, Millie smiled at
Willie and thanked him for a job done free. He said he brought
laborers to cut the trees and dig foundation for the hospital
but now he got it done for free. No doubt Willie did it with
ill-intent but the same turned out good for Millie. This is a
familiar story often retold in the platforms and yet most of us
can relate such or similar incidents in our lives from neighbors
and siblings. Things which one intents to harm the other,
sometimes surprisingly turn good for them.
An incident comes to my mind. The story is real and yet in
a spirit of forgiveness and not to inflame hatred I refrain from
mentioning names. A parish in a populous city was split based on
different conviction among members. Group 'A' held the existing
building and the other group 'B' peacefully went away. They
acquired a site and began construction of a multistoried church
building. RCC columns were raised up-to first floor level;
readied the platform with iron-frame, mud and scaffoldings for
laying concrete. Next day when they came to lay concrete the
floor and the RCC pillars were found broken, scaffoldings,
removed and damaged. This was the handiwork of 'A' who was
nostalgic to 'B' who engaged rowdies to dismantle the
construction. 'B' registered a police complaint and brought
building inspectors to assess the damage. They came in and after
inspection said, "You honestly thank those who damaged the
edifice. It was a blessing. Had it not been damaged now you
would have incurred heavy loss including lives in the future
because the pillars were constructed with substitute cement."
Everyone wondered how substitute cement came into scene when the
parish had bought good cement. Then it was known that the
engineer who was also the member of the parish had other
construction business and made a temporary adjustment. What the
sub-contractor replaced was substitute cement and the engineer
did not suspect. No one questioned the honesty. The inspectors
suggested disbanding the whole construction and make new
altogether and that was exactly done. Here 'A' conceived ill of
'B' but it turned a blessing to 'B'. This is a great lesson we
all need to learn.
Here is a typical instance where brothers out of sheer
jealousy imperiled the life of Joseph, son of Jacob. They hated
him, abused him and hatched a plot to kill him but later sold to
foreigners. He was again sold as slave to Potiphar. Potiphar's
wife falsely implicated him and he was imprisoned. For years, he
endured numerous afflictions for the sake of righteousness.
Finally became the most powerful man of the most powerful empire
of the time. The brothers who conceived ill about him unknowingly
became victim of their own vindictiveness; put themselves at the
mercy of Joseph. Joseph could have easily revenged them.
Instead, Joseph saw the hand of God in the ill-treatments of
brothers. He had therefore no difficulty to forgive them.
Verse 20 of Genesis chapter 50 is ‘50/20 principle’
according to some thinkers. Can we honestly forgive those who
intentionally hurt us when we are truly innocent? There is
nothing more a Himalayan task than to forgive those who hurt us.
Joseph is a towering personality in the Old Testament who
demonstrated forgiveness of unparalleled excellence. He is a
type of Christ. 'Joseph' means just. Genesis ends with Joseph's
death and his great message of forgiveness.
Joseph endured too many hardships at the hands of his
brothers. Joseph was the eleventh son of Jacob but the first son to
Rachael. Jacob loved Joseph more than other sons because Joseph
was born to him in his old age. Another reason was that Joseph
was the first son to his best loved wife, Rachel. Jacob was in
love with Rachael and wanted to marry Rachael. Jacob did not
marry Leah willingly. Laban, his future father in law and uncle, cheated Jacob to marry Leah. Jacob
who deceived his father is now the victim of deceiveness! Jacob served
another seven years as slave to Laban only for his love for
Rachael. Leah lived with perilous jealousy to her sister
Rachael was barren for a long time and endured much
insults from Leah. So it was natural that Jacob showed more love
to Joseph. Jacob bought a special kind of tunic for Joseph. For
this reason his brothers grew jealous of Joseph. This is a
positive warning to all parents against favoritism to a certain
child over other children. Sibling jealousy, hatred and rivalry
are as old as mankind, to begin with Cain and Abel, the first
siblings. Cain grew jealous of Abel because Abel offered
righteous offering to God and God was pleased with Abel. That
story ended in murder; Cain killed Abel.
Isaac and Rebecca are
bad example as parents. Father favors older son Esau and mother
favors younger son Jacob. Rebecca connived with Jacob to deceive
Isaac who was blind and Esau who was legitimately entitled to
father's blessings. Parent’s favoritism and deception was
precursor to so many family tragedies that we see later.
inherited favoritism from his parents as an attribute. He
favored one wife, Rachael more than the other and one son,
Joseph, more than the others. Sisters, Leah and Rachael shared
the same man as husband and that nurtured life-long envy and
enmity. Leah and Rachael are classic example for never-ending
sibling rivalry. The well-known columnists, "Dear Abby" and "Ann
Landers" were twin sisters and enemies at the same time, says an
To make matters worse, Joseph saw a dream, that they were
binding sheaves in the field. His sheave arose and stood upright
and the sheaves of the brothers gathered around and bowed to his
sheave. Joseph saw another dream. The sun, the moon and eleven
stars bowed down to him. These kindled hatred and wrath from
brothers, Gen 37:3-11. The lesson is; one must be cautious in divulging to
others what one feels in mind even if it is the truth.
The brothers went to Shechem to tend sheep. Jacob sent
Joseph to find out their welfare. The brothers saw Joseph from a
distance and conspired to kill him. Their hatred was such high
that they do not call him brother, but dreamer. Reuben pleaded
to spare his life and suggested to cast him in the pit and it
was done. Reuben here is portrayed as a better guy among
siblings for his ulterior intention was to restore Joseph to the
father. But other brothers sold him to slavery, for twenty
shekels of silver as Judah suggested. Then they dipped his robe
in the sheep’s blood and lied to Jacob that animals devoured his
beloved son to pieces and showed the bloodstained coat as proof.
Reuben and Judah deserve immense credit for saving his life.
Taking advantage of his blindness Jacob cheated his father.
Jacob, while not yet blind, is now cheated by his sons. His
eyesight rendered no use for he failed to distinguish animal
blood and human blood of his son. He has been thoroughly duped
to carry the bitterness for a long time. How true is the saying,
‘as you sow so you reap?’
We have no evidence to show that the brothers made any
attempt to trace their sold out brother which further heightens
their hard-heartedness. They were probably relieved of
father’s favoritism and completely forgot about Joseph. Hard
heartedness is a great malady. It turns the man away from God.
It is full of sinful thoughts. It knows not goodness. It is
unkind and wicked.
I would like to share an incident that took
place not long after Fr. Dale became a priest. He went to his native
place on vacation the chief purpose being to conduct the first
Holy Eucharist in his native parish. Fr. Dale planned to conduct
the first Holy Mass in his home parish, second in an
outside Kerala City parish of which he was a founding member and
the third in a famous shrine in the memory of St Mary. On the
way back home he planned to visit another South Indian City
where his very close friend who was an esteemed priest and
spend couple of days with him.
Before starting journey to the
first City, Fr. Dale received an invitation to attend a marriage
in the city where he was going to visit. The card was very a expensive one, so it was easy to make out that the inviting party
was very rich. Fr. Dale was thoroughly taken by surprise because
he did not know the person who invited him and why. None of the
names mentioned in the invitation was familiar. He did not
wonder about unfamiliar house name because these days
traditional names have been displaced with fashionable words,
"Titbit Villa," "Jimmy cottage," "Little Flower Bungalow" and so
on; unless one knows in person it is difficult to identify even
the next house. Peculiarity of the situation made him look at
the card closely and that led him to another surprise. Heading
of the card read, "Mr. Jack, request the honor of your presence
at the wedding ceremony of my daughter, Diana to Loyola ..."
Neither the heading nor the text showed mother's name (Not
actual names). This was something unusual. Fr. Dale enquired
with his friend about the invitation. The friend said Mr. Jack
was his friend and the card was sent at his behest for the
marriage takes place when Fr. Dale was staying with him as guest
and he did not like to leave the guest alone. When pointed out
the peculiarity, he unfolded a long story.
Mr. Jack was a small
retailer by profession, very frugal in spending, a committed
husband and caring father of seven children. He had meager
income in the beginning. He was extremely religious, kept away
from bad habits like partying, drinking and smoking, etc. He
studied stock market and finance in his spare time. He keenly
followed the stock market trend and proficiently managed his
small funds to begin with and also invested in real estate. He
had high volume of work especially during festival season. For
this reason he came home in late hours fully exhausted from the
day's work. His wife, Sheba mother of seven children had a very
hectic time with modest convenience in the house managing the
routine of kids. By the end of the day, she was physically and
mentally exhausted. Her patience ran out by the time Mr. Jack
came home. She was unhappy about her husband being very late.
Sheba murmured then complained in anger, then scolded and
finally burst out in full resentment and all went unnoticed in
the eye of the busy husband. She felt he was not helping her and had
no concern about her sufferings. On the other hand Jack felt she
was not appreciating his hard work as the bread winner of the
house and the fact that he takes care of every need in the
house. Needless to elaborate, Jack and Sheba lived under the
same roof more like strangers than partners and were in two
different worlds. Both failed to understand and accommodate each
other and there was no time for both to sit and talk about the
Time was not a great healer in their case. Each day, they were
mentally distancing from each other. One day as usual he returned from
work at 10 O' Clock in the night. Sheba was feeding kids; some kids
crying, some naughty, some disobedient and so on; she became impatient.
Hearing noise from inside, the husband waited at the door and listened
what was going on. He heard his wife saying to the children, "Oh my God,
where is this guy, it is better to give poison and kill him than waiting
like this." Sheba's words struck Jack like a thunder bolt. For
a moment he was dumbfounded and was unable to speak. It heavily
injured his heart. Fear overcast him that she might truly do
what she said. He went back to shop and slept. He dared not to
look at her face again. Next day he arranged separate house for
her to live and they were separated from each other from that day forever. Jack
takes care of the children; education, employment, marriage,
housing, etc. Sheba and Jack are separated for over 25 years.
Jack does not inform her about the marriage of the children, let alone
His wealth and status grew far beyond the ordinary over
the years. He holds shares in many corporations, financial
institutions and industries and owns numerous real estate
properties; indeed a billionaire; still very religious and he
constructed a church in his own land bearing full cost and
dedicated it in the name of his patron saint. Children grew up,
well educated and well employed and married to big magnates.
Religious and political leaders, bishops, ministers, high
ranking officials and renowned artists, are all his friends and
well wishers. They are frequent visitors as his guests. In short, he is a
formidable personality in that city. Chief celebrant of the
marriage is "supreme head of the church" he added. Fr. Dale
enquired, "If Jack is such devotee of the "supreme head" was it
not proper for him to admonish Jack to reconcile with his wife,
Sheba?" The friend answered, "Yes, he advised Jack many times,
but in vain. Jack does not like to talk that subject."
Fr. Dale was all the more surprised to know that there are
people who are socially in good standing but are more hard hearted
than Pharaoh, Isabel, Hitler and Stalin that are still called
Christians. Jesus Christ prayed for those who tortured and killed
him. He taught first to reconcile with a brother and then go to the
altar. Apostles advised, "Do not approach the altar without
reconciling with one another." Here we have a husband who never
bothered to understand the feelings of his wife, however bad she
might have been. Not that what she thoughtlessly said needed
vindication, but that he failed to seek an explanation from her,
let alone forgive, and end a long and arduous impasse. That a
husband cannot reconcile with his wife for decades, who bore
seven children for him is too hard a heart, thoroughly opposed
to Christianity. What a contradiction?
A few years ago some extremists in India brutally killed
an Australian missionary and his two children. His wife pardoned
the criminals who killed her husband and children. We have many
cases where ordinary people forgiving sex-offenders and
Recently I read a story in the Deepika daily (a newspaper in India). Col Kaplar
was Hitler's trusted lieutenant. During World War II Hitler
occupied Rome and Col Kaplar gathered Jews and cheated them by
sending them unawares to concentration camps. Monsignor Hue was
a chaplain and he helped the Jews in various ways to escape
Hitler's tyranny. The colonel knew it and tried many times to
kill monsignor, but he escaped. Then Rome United force captured
Rome and Hitler's army was rounded up. One day Kaplar came to
Hue and asked if he really practiced what he preached about
forgiveness. Hue said, yes. Then he implored Hue to forgive and
show mercy on him. Hue asked him what he wanted to do for him.
Kaplar said, he and his family were in danger and asked Hue to
shelter them out of trouble. Hue forgave him all his past and
helped his family to escape to safety. Years later when war was
over Kaplar managed to find Monsignor Hue and thanked him for
his great act of kindness. He wondered how monsignor could
forgive him and help his family. He perceived that forgiveness
is a virtue, changed his mind and became a disciple of monsignor
who then baptized him.
Fr. K. K. John is a priest with Indian Orthodox Church now residing in New Jersey
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