Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Jacob and Esau

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 -- Week of 5 Epiphany, Year Two

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 947)
Psalms 119:97-120 (morning)        81, 82 (evening)
Genesis 27:1-29
Romans 12:1-8
John 8:12-20

My throat caught as I read the final verse of today's passage from Genesis. "Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!"  (Gen. 27:29c)  I'm familiar enough with the rhetoric of Christian Zionism to know that this is a key concept to their ideological support of Israel and their inhumane dismissal of the human rights or ancient claims of Palestinians, including Christian Palestinians, and others whose roots may dwell deep in the land of the Middle East.  It is an easy moral equation for the Zionists -- the children of Jacob are blessed by God, and we who support their geographical and political claims will be blessed for our support;  those in conflict with Israel's property claims are cursed, as are their supporters.  If the others are cursed, any outrage upon them is justifiable.

But it is not so simple.  It is actually very complicated.  At least as complicated as this scandalous story that has such deceit and falsehood, such hope and determination at its core. 

We have a divided family.  A father who favors an elder son; a mother who favors the younger.  Such a tragic discord at the heart of their union.  We have competing cultures.  A son of the fields and the earth; "a quiet man, living in tents" (Gen. 25:27b)  Rural, earthy, rustic vs. urban, sophisticated, cosmopolitan.  These brothers are at odds from the womb.

A wife schemes to defraud her husband.  Her motive is her love for her younger.  The plan is clever, sophisticated, willful.  It includes more than mere deceit, but outright lying.  "Are you really my son Esau?"  "I am," says Jacob.  He even imputes God's participation in the guile.  "How did you find the game so quickly, my son?"  "God gave it to me." 

The blessing and cursing is based on a fraud.  Isaac intended to bless Esau, and give him dominance.  But Rebekah's plot with Jacob stole away the father's intention.

Imagine if the situation could have been adjudicated then and there.  What if some structure of family court could have held jurisdiction to listen to the case?  Is there any doubt how a judge might rule?  Is there any question where a court would say that justice lies? 

Yet a father's blessing goes forth unrevokable.  And God uses what God is given.  God oversees Jacob and brings him prosperity.  God also oversees Esau and makes him powerful and blessed.  When they finally meet again years after their alienation, it is Esau who is the exemplary one.  With noble generosity, he forgives and welcomes his brother Jacob, making room for them both. 

It is a complicated story and a complicated history.  As this family conflict plays out in our generation, there is still deceit and violence; there is abuse and misuse of power; threat and hatred.  When I spent a few days in the occupied territory, I witnessed an oppression not unlike Apartheid, enforced by fences and power and deceit.  Illegal settlements continue take the land and its water, to steal the blessing and birthright of the firstborn.  In the name of God.

And Esau finds it difficult to be noble or generous or forgiving. 

As God brought resurrection out of the deceit, betrayal and violence of the cross, so God has brought blessing out of the fraud of Jacob.  But there is a better way for families to behave.  Esau is also Issac's child, and he has a place in the land.  Isaac's word to him includes a freedom from the yoke of his brother, with a foreboding hint of violence.  It is past time for reconciliation and resurrection in this family. 

In the earlier rapprochement, Jacob came to Esau unarmed, with generous gifts and ready apology.  Esau was strong and comfortable enough to be able to accept Jacob's offers.  For Esau to be open to peace, he must also know blessing and security.  What can Jacob do to build trust?  How can Esau thrive enough to be trusting? 

If Esau and Jacob cannot live lives that are blessed, will there only be curses left?


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About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at -- Click for online Daily Office
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The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

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Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


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