“Reuben replied, ‘I told you not to sin against the boy, but you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.’ They did not know he could understand them… Joseph turned from them and began to weep.” – Genesis 42:22-24
Joseph’s brothers stand accused of espionage. They aren’t spies, of course, just starving Canaanites. So they protest their innocence, but no one cares or helps. It’s as if they’ve been seized, stripped, and thrown into a pit. The irony doesn’t escape them. “We killed our brother,” Reuben says. “This is payback.”
They don’t know that the powerful, enigmatic man who accused them is that brother. They don’t realize he understands them. But he does, and this is how Joseph learns something immensely disorienting—his brothers are remorseful, they comprehend the gravity of what they did.
The horrors of that day, the pathos of siblings who regret their crime, grief over so many lost years, confusion about what to do with them now that he can do anything he wants—it’s all too much. Joseph breaks down and weeps.
He will weep again. The remaining chapters are drenched in his tears. They spring from a thousand wells, but surely this is one: even if he can pardon them, taking them in his arms, the sad past remains. Nothing can change or repair the damage. It can only be grieved, it can only be borne. For some things, all you can do is weep.
We know we must forgive. But sometimes, like Jesus on the cross, the best we can do is find a way to say to God, ‘Father, you forgive,’ weeping and grieving as we pray.
Sometimes we have to trust the sufficiency of tears. Sometimes the important thing is not so much to finally fix, but to fully feel.
Receive my tears, O Christ, who wept for me.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.