November 13 is World Kindness Day, which was established in 1998 by the World Kindness Movement. The idea and importance of kindness is of course, much older, as well as the struggle to find real kindness.
The very first book of the Bible, Genesis, has an interesting tale of kindness in the story of Joseph, son of Jacob. His is a long and complicated story, but in Genesis chapter 40 we find him jailed on false charges. In prison with him were two men – a baker and cupbearer – who had also been imprisoned by Pharaoh. Joseph had been wronged by an unjust ruler, and the other two “committed an offense.” All three probably felt resentment toward their government because of what might have been arbitrary treatment.
I think underappreciated verses in the story are Genesis 40:6-7, which read: “When Joseph came to [the baker and cupbearer] in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, ‘Why are your faces downcast today?’” (emphasis mine)
Note the word “today”. These were men in prison. You’d expect that “downcast” is their default mode, their everyday mood, but Joseph noticed something different about this day. Either Joseph: 1) made the prison a place where people aren’t downcast all the time, and/or 2) noticed and cared about when people are more downcast than usual. He wanted to help the situation right in front of him, even though he had his own share of problems. I thought about this when watching the movie Shawshank Redemption recently and how Andy Dufresne sought to give others hope, especially in the scene involving the record player.
From this act of kindness, stemming from attention to the world around him and being in tune with God’s character of compassion, Joseph learned about the dreams of these other prisoners, which opened the door to his freedom, and later many other blessings.
Joseph was not seeking escape or success or revenge and was therefore focused on the needs of others. Even before his time in prison, Joseph had suffered many wrongs, but he was able to still look outward and keep his eyes open for opportunity to express God’s love to those who need it. God did not owe him any blessing, but Joseph surely was blessed, and later all of Israel shared in it.
In Joseph, we have an example of God’s love in action. Today, many are stressed and downcast and need Jesus, the great comforter. Be kind, not because it’s World Kindness Day, but because “Love is patient and kind” (1 Cor 13:4a). Seek to bless others and you may find escape for your own downcast spirit.