Thursday 7/13/17 – Peace of God and Peace of the World, Part II

There is an amazingly beautiful moment that comes in family therapy. It is the moment I work for, though it is not a moment I can create. In this moment, people who have been focused on what others need to do for them suddenly change.  Their hearts soften.  They see with tenderness the needs, wounds, fears, and struggles of others.  Their perspective changes from “I want” to “we can.”  It is a moment of the Peace of God.

In that moment, God comes into the struggles and conflicts of a family.  God heals.  God changes hearts.  After that moment, my work with the family is a matter of details.  Hearts are open.  Courage to face tough issues emerges.  People shift.  Problems become manageable.  Love returns.

Background of Trouble

We witness exactly this drama in today’s first reading.  Our readings from Genesis this week have left out parts of the story that are important background.  We had the story of Abraham and his only son Isaac last Thursday.  God gave Abraham a ram in a bush to save Isaac’s life.  As he did, God again promised Abraham that his progeny would be as numerous as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore.

Today’s story is a story of that progeny.  Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau.  Jacob expanded the family substantially.  He had 12 sons.  One of them, a favorite, was Joseph.  Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him.  They sold him to some traders who took him to Egypt.  There Joseph’s capacity for interpreting dreams  gained him favor with Pharaoh.  Part of this came when Joseph correctly interpreted the Pharaoh’s dream to mean that famine was coming.  Because of Joseph’s interpretation, the Egyptians prepared for the famine.   They stored up grain.

Then the famine came.  It came to Canaan, too.  Abraham’s great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren were numerous and hungry. Jacob sent his sons to buy grain in Egypt to feed them.  In yesterday’s reading we saw where Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.  He gave them a hard time.  He heard them begin to understand their guilt.  That, in turn, softened his heart.  Yesterday’s reading ended with, “But turning away from them, he wept.”

An Exquisite Moment of the Peace of God

Now, in today’s reading, the brothers have returned to Egypt.  Joseph had told them not to come back unless they brought their youngest brother Benjamin.  We witness a moment that turned the history of what became the Hebrew people.  We hear Judah (who was about Joseph’s age) plead:

Later, our father told us to come back and buy some food for the family.
So we reminded him, ‘We cannot go down there;
only if our youngest brother is with us can we go,
for we may not see the man if our youngest brother is not with us.’
Then your servant our father said to us,
‘As you know, my wife bore me two sons.
One of them, however, disappeared, and I had to conclude
that he must have been torn to pieces by wild beasts;
I have not seen him since.
If you now take this one away from me, too,
and some disaster befalls him,
you will send my white head down to the nether world in grief.'”

This truth, spoken in love, melted Joseph’s heart. “He could no longer control himself.”  He had all the Egyptians withdraw “as he made himself known to his brothers.” 

“I am Joseph,” he said to his brothers.
“Is my father still in good health?”
But his brothers could give him no answer,
so dumbfounded were they at him.

“Come closer to me,” he told his brothers.
When they had done so, he said:
“I am your brother Joseph, whom you once sold into Egypt.
But now do not be distressed,
and do not reproach yourselves for having sold me here.
It was really for the sake of saving lives
that God sent me here ahead of you.”

An Essential Choice for the Peace of God

In that tender, exquisite, life-changing moment, Joseph forgave.  He let go of all he had held in and held onto through the years.  What had his thoughts been like?  He had been sold by his brothers, separated from all he had known.  There had been intrigue against him in the Egyptian court.  He had had a hard life.

But in the tender moment of love, he let that go.  There were great tears.  “His sobs were so loud the Egyptians heard him.”  He forgave—and was able to see God’s goodness in what had happened to him.

It is no small thing to let such great hurts go.

My observation is that seeing the perspective and distress of the other is necessary to make it happen.

Joseph had to see his brothers’ (and father’s) pain.  He had to feel it.

When he did, he could let go of his own.

Forgiveness is a choice.  It brings the Peace of God to a little corner of the world.  In it the Peace of God creates Peace in the world.  (see a previous reflection for a discussion of Peace of God and Peace of the World)  The Peace of God brings an absence of conflict which is founded on love and hope.

Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Forgiveness in this case led to reconciliation.  It doesn’t always do that.  Reconciliation requires that people on both sides soften and see each other with love.  Forgiveness can happen one sided.  It is part of the Peace of God.  I love how Dr. Mary Healy puts it in her book Healing: Bringing God’s Gift of Mercy to the World:

“To forgive someone does not mean saying, ‘It’s okay.  It’s fine.  No big deal,’ or ‘They meant well.’  To forgive is not to minimize or deny an offense.  Sometimes it’s not okay, and sometimes the person did not mean well.  But to forgive means I let go of my right to hold the offense against him or her.  It is between that person and God.  I choose to let God deal with it, since God alone judges with perfect wisdom, justice, and mercy.” (p 96)

Forgiveness for great wrongs, like what was done to Joseph, is NOT easy.  It takes God’s grace.

Yet grace builds on nature.  The Gospel today tells us one habit we can develop that can help us to forgive: let things go.

A Habit That Prepares Us for Forgiveness

Jesus is sending the disciples out to proclaim the Kingdom.  He knows well from his own experience that not everyone will welcome them or accept God’s goodness through them.

So he gives some advice:

“As you enter a house, wish it peace.
If the house is worthy,
let your peace come upon it;
if not, let your peace return to you.
Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words—
go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.”

In other words, carry God’s Peace with you.  For other trouble: LET IT GO.  Not with vengeance.  Just let it go. Shake the dirt of it off your feet.

The Peace of God is not dependent on the Peace of the World.  But it can bring peace to the world.  WE can bring the Peace of God to our world…by letting go of whatever hurts or wounds or serious injustices happened yesterday or last year or in childhood.

Not easy—but, can you imagine the beauty of that scene with Joseph and his brothers happening with you and your family?  Or your ministry?

Letting go seems a small price to pay for it.


Lord, you know how hard it is for me to forgive.  I judge.  I want to hold other people accountable.  I want to tell people off.  I want to say whatever it takes for them to see the wrong they’ve done.  Lord, when I do, send me to Genesis and Joseph.  Help me visualize the beauty of that moment of reconciliation.  Help me put myself and my little wars in that scene.  Then help me choose to be Joseph.  Help me to forgive and let go.  Amen.

About the Author

Mary Ortwein lives in Frankfort, Kentucky in the US. At different times in her life she has been an elementary and college teacher, a full-time wife and mother, founder of pro-life service agencies, a marriage and family therapist, a non-profit agency administrator, and a writer of relationship and mental health curriculum. A convert to Catholicism in 1969, Mary had a deeper conversion in 2010. She earned a theology degree from St. Meinrad School of Theology in 2015. Recently retired, Mary takes as her model Anna, who met the Holy Family in the temple at the time of the Presentation. She is a widow who finds joy in prayer, in being a part of parish life, and in offering hospitality to those who are journeying toward God--especially those who have previously wandered away from God, those who are journeying home to Eternal Life, and those who are seeking a deep relationship with God and other Christians.

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  1. Your writings have inspired me on many occassions. Todays writings has enabled me to think about my family back home, and how not being able to forgive one another has caused so much heartache.. Thank you Mary for these awesome words of wisdom,, and the richness in your beautiful writings.
    God bless you. God bless my family back home, and All families who are finding it hard to forgive ..

  2. I also hsve a big problem with two of my daughters who are not on speaking terms. We are planning to talk yo them and really ask the. Lord tk be with us in tbis cobfrontation so that it will be s oeaceful settkement…both eilling to leg go of ehat tgeh both are holding on to. May the Prince of peace be eith s, we pray in Jesus bsme. Amen.

  3. Forgiveness. An easy word but hard task to do. With much humility while gazing Jesus in the crucifix, and in His Real presence in the Eucharist, asking the grace from the source of love this can be possible, re-uniting every family through forgiving and loving each other.

    Thanks Mary for this very rich and beautiful reflections of today’s reading. It enlightens, it helps, and it drive us to move.

    God bless!

  4. When I was a small child, a stranger outside the family did something bad to me. It stayed with me in the small town I grew up in, making it an unavoidable reality. As I got older I told God that I have forgiven this person but with a condition attached to the forgiveness. That if this person makes it to heaven, that I would prefer not to see him there. Is this enough since it’s turned over to God? Or do I have more work to do on forgiveness?
    I welcome any comments. Thank you.

  5. Great Reflection once again, Mary. God bless you for your wonderful and deep reflections.

    @Matthew: There is still bitterness in your heart. In the account of Heaven, Jesus tells us that there will be no husband and wife relationships. That goes to say that if the deepest human relationship will cease to exist, that means that in the event that you both make it to heaven, you will all coexist without remembrance of wrong doing. My advice is that you let go unconditionally-that is the epitome of agape love.

  6. Thanks Mary for your very inspiring reflections. I have tried to forgive but I find myself remembering the very bad things that were done to me. I am supposed to forgive and forget or even when I have forgiven and still remember is still enough
    May God bless you Mary for your good work

  7. Hi, Matthew,

    Your question strikes a chord with me. I had a similar response to a similar situation some years ago. What eventually became clear to me is that I still had a wound that God needs to heal. In a sense I was saying that I was willing to let this person who hurt me have control over me, even if heaven. If he was “here,” I would want to be “there.” If that was true, then I still carried wound. When we discover wound, the next response is to ask God to heal. I was taught to ask Jesus to come into the memory of the person and do whatever he chooses to do. Do it again and again until Jesus has healed. As I have recently been studying healing prayer, I have learned even more of the power of that prayer.Your question and my reflection on it shows me that it is time for me to do another round of healing myself. Thank you for pointing that out to me! To be in heaven, we will be purified–all of us–so things with people who have been troublesome will be different. How? God will work it out just right. I hope these thoughts help.

  8. Hi Mary

    God does indeed work, when your open to his grace.

    Today in New Zealand it has been a rough winter day. We had no power in the morning, and when the power came on I did my usual scripture readings, prayers, and then reading the catholic moment. The power went off again, so it meant no internet once again. And then life and work goes on…
    It is now closer to midnight and I finished what I had startedreadng this morning. Well the last passage is so writen for me, no wonder God wanted me to read it. You could have been describing me to the letter. I am trying very hard to be less righteous and more patient and understanding, and forgiving. Thank you to God for guiding me to read your words and thank you to you for taking the time and thought to write these words.

  9. Mary, that was the most awesome reflections I have read of yours so far. Really stuck a cord with me. I’m thinking it all boils down to two things Jesus says in all the gospels. “Forgive us trespassers as we forgive those who trespass against us”. And “Judge not and ye will not be judged”. Oh, like was stated earlier – so much easier said than done! We silly humans tend to be very judgmental – consciously and subconsciously. Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.

  10. Dear Mary, thank you for this amazing reflection. Your words have inspired so many of us. We all want to find and experience healing, forgiveness and peace. Thanks for directing us that way. May the Holy Spirit continue to guide your thoughts and your writings. God bless you and the whole world.

  11. Mary you never fail to speak to my heart. It is like we have had a parallel life sometimes. I have a sister and we have not spoken for 8 years. I have forgiven and harbor no bad feelings but I do not allow her in my life; like you mention one sided. I shall be open and be lead by God. Thank you for your prayer. God bless you.

  12. Thank you, Mary, for helping me to see that the story of Joseph at its heart, is nothing more than a story of God intervening to achieve heroic forgiveness. It is both humbling and inspiring. God is the ultimate Judge, and he will pronounce His perfect judgment on the people who offend Him by their wrongdoings to other people, especially loved ones. I think Jesus knew we would run into this all the time, so he gave His instructions on how we are to act when others are hard-hearted or seek to hurt us. Being married, asking God to help me forgive and not harbor grudges is something I find I have to do DAILY. I know how it feels to carry hurt around and it’s debilitating. Thank you for your wise words.

  13. Very inspiring, Mary. A few years back, I read in Scripture verses about forgiveness and judgment. The Holy Spirit revealed to me the people that I had offended or offended me. Whenever this was revealed, the situation, or the person, “I forgive you, or (name) forgive me for any hurt.” Then I am able to forgive myself for the wrong doing. “If we confess our sins, God will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all righteousness.” This is how I was taught by the Holy Spirit to let go. Peace is present daily. Whenever another revealing comes to me, I follow the same teaching. TBTG.

  14. I never had the understanding that I do now after reading your reflection about the Gospel passage. I was picturing the disciples shaking the dust from their feet with disgust. I was not picturing them just ‘letting it go’. The whole ‘Let God be God’. Thank you for your insight.

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