An Act that Changed the Course of History


By Salim J. Munayer, Musalaha Executive Director

Over the past several months we have been working to update some of the chapters in our curriculum of reconciliation Some of the issues we have been researching further are the meeting of justice and reconciliation (there can be no reconciliation without justice, and not justice without reconciliation), and how forgiveness relates tot eh public and political spehres. I have been going through Donald Shriver, Jr.’s bookAn Ethic for Enemies: Forgiveness in Politics. While forgiveness sounds like a religious concept to many people, justice often does not, something that Shriver attributes to theologians. Reinhold Niebuhr, one of the most politically oriented contemporary theologians, has advocated for justice as a political virtue while downplaying the importance of forgiveness, relegating it to the sphere of sentimentalism, outside of realpolitik. Shriver argues for the importance of forgiveness in public discourse, avoiding common misconception of forgiving as forgetting. Instead he advocates the slogan “Remember and forgive.”

 When we turn to the Scriptures, we can easily find many examples and calls to forgiveness in the New Testament, but it is not as dominant a theme in the Old Testament. Shriver discusses the story of Joseph as a model for forgiveness, and we know that Joseph prefigures the Messiah. Next week Jews will be celebrating Passover (Pessach) and Christians are remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus. Passover, in the book of Exodus, is a story of deliverance of the people of Israel from slavery, and Easter (Pascha)  is the rememberance of how Jesus the Messiah delivered us from the bondage of sin.
In the book of Exodus we look to God as the deliverer of a suffering people from the crimes of Pharaoh and the injustice he inflicted upon the people of Israel. But, we overlook the story leading up to this – Jospeh’s story in Egypt. The story of Joseph shows the great crimes that are behind the formation of the people of Israel, from prejudice, betrayal, and slavery. Featured in this story and twenty-five year old would, we see fear, suspicion, guilt judgemental truth, forbearance of revenge, empathy and compassion.”2
When Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and forgives them, he invites Jacob’s family to settle in Egypt. “A new nation has begun, but it could not begin until soemthing decisive was done about evils that threatened the unity of a family apparently bent on destroying itself. The decisive something was a long-drawn-out process of forgiveness.”3 Without reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers, the people of Israel might not exist. Joseph’s forgiveness gave birth to a nation, and it is this story of family unity that provides the background and context for the Exodus.
Like Joseph, Jesus left his favored position with the Father and became a slave, suffering injustice. Jesus was also betrayed, and his obedience and forgiveness gave birth tot he kingdom of God.  
In our lives, we face injustices, fear, betrayal, and revenge. These need to be addressed, but we cannot move forward as nations and communities without the hope of forgiveness. If we take the example of Joseph and the commands of Jesus into consideration in our respective situations, it can heal our peoples and give birth to something new and exciting, just as it did in the story of Joseph and the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. As we address our contexts, we echo the words of the prophet Micah that may we seek to “do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.” And, many we follow Jesus’ example of obedience and forgiveness and bring a change to the course of our histories.

[1] Donald W. Shriver, Jr. An Ethic for Enemies: Forgiveness in Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 7.

2.Ibid., pp. 24-27.

3.Ibid., p.27.