To Err is Human
Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and His only Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
“To err is human; to forgive, divine.”
A quote from a poem by English poet Alexander Pope. Although written in the late 1600’s, this phrase is still used today. This saying remains in our speech and writing because of its simplicity and truth.
The truth is that we humans are sinful and we make mistakes and errors because of our imperfect state of being. It is also true that forgiveness is a divine quality and an action performed by and given to us by God. Simply put; without God’s forgiveness of sin, we could not forgive others.
A great example of the truth of this saying is given to us in Holy Scriptures in the book of Genesis chapter 45. It is here and to the end of the book of Genesis we are told the conclusion of the history of Joseph’s father Jacob, now named Israel.
You will remember that Joseph and Benjamin were born of Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel, who died in giving birth to Benjamin. Jacob showed his love of Joseph by giving him the gift of a coat of many colors. This, along with other preferential treatment, made Joseph’s older brothers very jealous of their father’s attention to Joseph.
This is where the err of human envy began. The brothers first threw Joseph into a pit in the wilderness where they were tending their father’s flocks of sheep. Joseph’s death was an almost certainty until Reuben convinced them not to kill him and Judah came up with the idea to sell him into slavery of the Ishmaelites. The Ishmaelites in turn sold Joseph to the Egyptian Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and captain of the guard.
Joseph’s life followed an up-and-down series of events. Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph and when Joseph refused her overtures, she accused him of accosting her so that he was thrown into prison. He remained in prison for over two years until he was called before Pharaoh to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. He had previously interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s butler and it was he who recommended Joseph.
The king then put Joseph in charge of the storehouses of Egypt in order to gather grain for seven years to survive an upcoming seven year famine. Now governor over the land, it was at this time that Joseph’s brothers came to beg for food.
Joseph recognized his brothers but they did not recognize him. Joseph used this to his advantage to provide for his family’s well being and to see his younger brother Benjamin once again. He finally reveals himself to his brothers and makes a request to see his father.
Here is where divine forgiveness is seen.
‘Then he said: “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.’ [Genesis 45:4-5]
‘…it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.’ [Genesis 45:8]
‘Then he fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. Moreover he kissed all his brothers and wept over them, and after that his brothers talked with him.’ [Genesis 45:14-15]
Joseph could have easily repaid his brothers’ crimes against him with imprisonment or death. He could have enslaved his entire family in righteous retribution. Instead, he followed God’s will to forgive. “God sent me before you to preserve life.” he tells them. Joseph’s brothers had betrayed him, yet he forgave. Joseph’s brothers had become his enemy to which no quarter was expected, yet he forgave. He was without sin and had all power to judge and punish his brothers; instead, he reconciled with those who erred against him.
We can all relate to a brother or sister sinning against us. Even if you were an only child, you still have experienced a friend or neighbor sin against you. How can I be so sure? Because every one of us is human and to err is human.
When I was a young boy I would annoy my older brother, sisters and cousins to the point that they would beat me. My sisters’ favorite form of retribution would be to put me in a kitchen cupboard and bar the doors with one of mother’s wooden spoons through the handles. My brother and cousin would stuff me inside a sleeping bag and tie it shut when I irritated them too much. It may sound cruel, but I must admit it was not undeserving. I sinned against them first.
I also remember the first time I heard the words of Jesus Christ in our Gospel read in your presence today.
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” [Luke 6:27-31]
Yes. Another phrase that is still in use today, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”
Everyone knows this saying even if they don’t know from where it comes. Some call it the ‘Golden Rule’. As Christians, we know it also as the second most important commandment Jesus said is equal to the first, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ [Matthew 22:37]
This is what Joseph did for his brothers and what we are to do for our brothers. To love and forgive is divine, that is, it is of God. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, explains further:
“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” [Luke 6:32-33]
How blessed we are when we follow God’s command to love one another? How much more will we gain when we forgive others as God forgave and continues to forgive us? The Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the church in Rome:
“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:8]
“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” [Romans 5:10-11]
How were Joseph’s brothers and family reconciled? Through divine forgiveness. How are we reconciled to our brothers & sisters, our neighbors and our enemies? Through the divine forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Finally, and most importantly, how are we reconciled to God our Father? Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Yes. Jesus Christ knew no sin, yet became sin for us. It was we who sinned against God. It was we who gave ourselves into the slavery of sin. We chose sin and rejected God and thus became an enemy of God.
Yet while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Through no work or merit of our own could we save ourselves. It is the grace of God through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ that we are saved.
Jesus Christ came into the world as a man, born of the Virgin Mary. We did not know him but he knew us. Like Joseph’s brothers who were starving from a great famine in the land, we too were starving for the bread of life. We now bow down at the foot of the cross from whence flows the blood of the Lamb of God. It is here where we receive the divine forgiveness from the God who never ceased loving His children.
Through our Baptism into the death of Christ we are resurrected into the life of Christ, the first to be raised from the dead. Through our eating and drinking of the body and blood of Christ Jesus we receive forgiveness of our sin. Through this forgiveness of sin we will not die to sin but live forever in Christ.
What a joy to behold! The permanent forgiveness of sin is now ours. We have been reconciled to God. By this forgiveness of sin we are able to join King David in saying:
Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. [Psalm 103:1-5]
Yes indeed. Praise be to God for all His benefits to us. We are truly a redeemed people. Our err is truly human and our forgiveness is truly divine.