Joseph was running the country; he was the one who gave out rations to all the people. When Joseph's brothers arrived, they treated him with honor, bowing to him. Joseph recognized them immediately, but treated them as strangers and spoke roughly to them.
He said, "Where do you come from?"
"From Canaan," they said. "We've come to buy food."
Joseph knew who they were, but they didn't know who he was.
-Genesis 42:6-8 (The Message)
In George R. R. Martin's series of novels, A Game of Thrones, each house is represented by a sigil. House Stark is known by the direwolf. The Lannisters display a lion. House Targaryen is represented by the dragon. There is the Flayed Man, the Krakken, the Stag, and more. By their sigils all can see who they are, and unless challengers display their banners, upon sight they may remain unknown.
Once identities are unveiled, however, the grounds of engagement shift.
In the story of Joseph and his brothers, there is a concealed identity, and a tension results that appears elsewhere in literature, and in life. Joseph, encountering the brothers who sold him to slavers and deceived his father in to thinking him dead, recognizes his family, though they do not recognize him. They have bowed before him, an instance his boyhood dreams revealed would take place, and now he must decide how he will rule over them: with cruelty, or kindness?
"Joseph knew who they were, but they didn't know who he was."
But are we not faced with a similar scenario, each day?
Every day Christians go forth in the world, they can know they are beloved children of God (Eph. 1:15-23). Christians also know something about all they look upon; they are fellow image-bearers (Gen. 1:27), fellow sons and daughters of the King (Gal. 3:26-29), and, for persons who do not believe, are those whom God patiently awaits repentance and belief (2 Tim 3:8-9). Every day there is a seeing, and a knowing, of yourself and your neighbor, a neighbor who, as we see in the story of Joseph, may also have at one time been an enemy.
What we know concerning ourselves, and those around us, is of critical importance for how we choose to live our lives. The truths we hold dear about God, of course, are determinative for our actions, as it was for Joseph. At the moment he recognized his brothers, Joseph could have revealed himself and had his brothers crushed. He did not. Instead, as the story unfolds, Joseph reveals to his brothers the understanding he has come to possess of God through his trials, and an assurance that his hardships were not without a divine, greater purpose.
How does the God we have come to know in Jesus, and throughout the Scriptures, teach us to engage with those who do not know who we are?
Think deeply on this, for the answer should be a list of the virtues. We should receive others with love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self control, yet even so, we know this is not of ourselves, but it is the gift of the Spirit in us. In these our sanctification, and the source of our salvation, are revealed. It is through such a life that we introduce others to the God who has already, and who continues, to save us.
Lord, help me to look upon others this day as persons created in your image, whom you call me to receive with love, patience, and hospitality. Help me to act in a way that reveals not only my character, but yours, that I may give you glory. When others do not know who I am, may they come to discover a person in whom God has been at work. In Jesus' name, Amen.