Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church
According to the “Working Preacher” webcast for these texts, there are some biblical stories that are given to us as a good example of how to live out our lives of faith. This is not one of them! There is nothing redeemable about the life of Jacob—from start to finish, he is a heel. One of the definitions of “heel” in the dictionary is “a despicable or unscrupulous person.” If we were to finish translating the text all the way into English Jacob’s name would literally be “Heel.” In birth he grabs his twin brother’s heel and pulls him back into the womb so that he can be born first. So, they call him “Heel”, or “He who grabs the heel.” Another way to translate his name would be to call him “Tripper.” He continues to be a major pain in the butt to his brother for the rest of his life. Most older siblings understand this story. You are responsible, mom loves your younger sibling more (and for absolutely no apparent reason).
These are ancient stories passed around the Middle East for a millennia before they are incorporated into the Jewish texts. The earliest of the stories is the birth narrative, and how Jacob overcomes his brother Esau. It is a mythic story of how the people left the life of hunting and gathering and became herders and farmers. From the beginning of time people had hunted to survive. Now they have radically changed their life style and become herders. Why? Ah, Granddaughter, let me tell you the story of “The Heel.”
The second oldest story is that of a younger shepherd getting the better of an older one, even though the older tried to do him wrong. This is a Mesopotamian myth, so the setting of the story has to change. Last of all we have the “theophanies” or supernatural events. God appears to Jacob in the wilderness. Jacob wrestles with an angel, etc. The editors of the book of Genesis have done a wonderful job of weaving all of these stories together and making them a part of our narrative of faith.
I want to concentrate on the Genesis 28 section of today’s reading. Jacob (the heel) has stolen his father’s blessing. This blessing can not be taken back. The words do something. The closest example I can think of is if you said to a friend, “I’ll bet you $20 the Seahawks will win this weekend.” Then your friend answers back, “you’re on!” Those words have real life consequences. So, Jacob steals his father’s blessing, and the result is to turn him into a refugee. He is forced to leave all of his father’s wealth, and to head out on his own with no tent, no bed and no pillow. He is down and out. And that is exactly where God meets him. And the promise is preposterous. This poor soul, ostracized from his family, using a rock for a pillow, will inherit all of the land, become prosperous, and his offspring will fill the earth and bless all people! Now that’s a promise!
A couple of things about this story might hearten us. First of all, is your family messed up? I don’t care how bad it is, you’ve got nothing Jacob and Esau! This story comes very close to fratricide! God does not abandon us because we have family problems. God is present with us right in the midst of them. Secondly, God is present with us at our lowest points in life. This is what Lutherans refer to as “The Theology of the Cross.” God doesn’t sit far off and judge us when things have gone badly. God shows up and blesses us. Not because we are good (this story proves that beyond a shadow of a doubt!) It is just God’s nature to bless. That blessing has a real life effect, it changes us. We are no longer down and out and despised. We are blessed and loved. Just as we are.
Quotes for the Week
“It’s easy to understand why the cat has eclipsed the dog as modern America’s favorite pet. People like pets to possess the same qualities they do. Cats are irresponsible and recognize no authority, yet are completely dependent on others for their material needs. Cats cannot be made to do anything useful. Cats are mean for the fun of it.” P. J. O’Rourke
Mom loved my brother more. Not that she didn’t love me – I felt the wash of her love every day, pouring over me, but it was a different kind, siphoned from a different, and tamer, body of water. I was her darling daughter; Joseph was her it.” Aimee Bender
“I would tell people some years later that I was raised an only child and so was my brother.” –Homer Hickman
“I’ve been the oldest child since before you were born” E. L. Konigsburg
“Christian is staring at us. He’s an only child and could never understand the delicate joys of sibling abuse.” Cynthia Hand
“Teddy said it was a hat, So I put it on. Now dad is saying, “where the heck’s the toilet plunger gone?” Shel Silverstein
Lesson Genesis 27:1-4, 14-23 & 18:10-17 (NRSV)
27:1 When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called his elder son Esau and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “See, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. 3 Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and hunt game for me. 4 Then prepare for me savory food, such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may bless you before I die.”
27:15 Then Rebekah took the best garments of her elder son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob; 16 and she put the skins of the kids on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. 17 Then she handed the savory food, and the bread that she had prepared, to her son Jacob. 18 So he went in to his father, and said, “My father”; and he said, “Here I am; who are you, my son?” 19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, so that you may bless me.” 20 But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “Because the LORD your God granted me success.” 21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.” 22 So Jacob went up to his father Isaac, who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands; so he blessed him.
Genesis 28:10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11 He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. 12 And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And the LORD stood beside him and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14 and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. 15 Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place– and I did not know it!” 17 And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
Questions for the Week
Do you think of the characters of the Bible as good examples to be followed? How do you deal with this story?
Is there a time you were in the depths and God’s promise became real to you? How did that promise come to you?