It sounds pretty simple – be merciful, just as God is merciful to you. With the measure you use, it will be measured to you. And Jesus teaches us to pray
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Luke 11:4a
But it can be so hard to actually do it. Maybe we can forgive the crazy Boston driver who cuts us off in traffic, but could we forgive the one who actually crashed into us and caused lasting harm? If even forgiving the little things takes an effort of will, how can we forgive the big things? Joseph forgave his brothers for selling him into slavery. When we are faced with God’s demand that we forgive even great evils committed against us, we realize how much we need the help of the Holy Spirit. On our own, we are powerless – our sinful hearts call down curses on those who hurt us. Fortunately, we are not on our own. Jesus sent His Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts, to produce the fruits of repentance, to pull the logs out of our eyes, so that we may see all people through the eyes of God, who delights to show mercy. For evil will not be overcome by evil – we will only overcome evil with good.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Martin Luther King Jr.
The Old Testament lesson is from the book of Genesis, chapter 50, verses 15-21:
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
The Epistle lesson is from Romans, chapter 12, verses 14-21:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The Gospel for the fourth Sunday after Trinity is from Luke, chapter 6, verses 36-42:
Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.
Joseph Forgives His Brothers, from The Bible Panorama, or The Holy Scriptures in Picture and Story (1891) by William A. Foster [Public domain]