Children bringing gifts—presenting their precious gatherings: crayon scribblings, wilted dandelions, and other “found” treasure—often confound their parents and other recipients. Struggling to find an appropriate response, the recipients console themselves thinking: “It’s not the gift but the thought that counts.” Just so, we learn to discern intentions.
But we are not so good at discerning our own intentions. We claim good intentions when the truth is quite different. Our “good” intentions really intend for us to look good—they are selfish… not “good” at all.
Martin Luther spoke of this in the Heidelberg Disputation saying: “Arrogance cannot be avoided, or true hope be present unless the judgment of condemnation is feared in every work.” In saying this Luther acknowledged the truth of Jesus’ response to being called “good teacher,” saying, “No one is good except God alone” (Lk 18:19b). We don’t possess the depth to see the deepest intentions of our hearts. Neither do we have sufficient duration to see the concluding consequences of any work. Therefore, none of our works can be discerned unambiguously as good or righteous. If they could, we’d either become arrogant in our pride over them or we’d despair of ever doing them and have no hope.
This confrontation between Joseph and his brothers anticipates the confrontation between Jesus and all his brothers and sisters on earth. Though humanity sought to silence Jesus by killing him “for the good of the nation,” God intended Jesus’ death for good: salvation for all. God’s plans work for good even through sinful people. We can confess all our works as they are under condemnation, confident of God’s forgiveness.
Table Talk: Confess a time you did good for selfish reasons.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive us our deeds both good and bad so that we might look only to you for our righteousness. Amen
15 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. 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, Your father gave this command before he died, 17 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. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, Behold, we are your servants. 19 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. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones. Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.