Fr. Isaac Blevins is the vicar of St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in the Battle Creek community.
The story of Jacob and Esau is a familiar one – even if you’ve never read it in Genesis: siblings who don’t get along because they are so different from one another. Though they are twins, Esau, the first-born, is a hairy woodsman, happy to spend hours browsing in Bass Pro and bringing in the game he bagged on his latest hunting trip. Jacob is different: smooth-skinned and focused more on academics and indoor life – he prefers drinks on the patio. Isaac, their father, favors Esau; Rebecca, their mother, favors Jacob. One day Jacob is in the kitchen and has made a nice pot of beans and cornbread when Esau comes in exhausted from his hunting trip. Esau plops down at the table and says he is so hungry he might just pass out. His brother offers him some of the beans in exchange for his rights as the firstborn son. Now, this probably seems rather drastic, but Jacob is intelligent and knows just how to ask, and Esau is focused on getting food and maybe he didn’t take his brother’s request seriously. Esau has always had the upper hand, why should things suddenly be different? Or maybe there is something more going on here.
Maybe the exaggeration is supposed to make us stop and think about things for a moment. Jacob is the underdog in this story. Though he is technically born second, his birth is at the same time as his twin – they are equal in everything but the fact that cultural rules say Esau is more important. Jacob, as a character, is also closer to feminine expectations than Esau. His smooth skin and preference for working in the home mark him as “less manly” than his brother. He uses tricks and traps to get ahead in the world because that is all he can do to try to come out on top.
That doesn’t mean that Esau is the villain – he’s just living into the role he was given at birth. Who is going to question being dad’s favorite son and getting everything in the will? It’s a tricky situation filled with questions of human rights and the probability of high emotions. It’s important to remember, however, that when we see God acting in these stories it is usually in just this sort of topsy-turvy way. Those at the bottom are lifted up and those at the top find themselves pushed down. In the gospels Jesus points to such shifts in position over and over – a cycle of change. Maybe Esau never thought about Jacob’s talents and resources…until he needed them to survive. Could that change in understanding and appreciation happen without a dramatic shift in position?
We ourselves are living in a time of great struggle and high emotions in our human family. It may seem that we are arguing over something as simple and insignificant as a pot of beans and a skillet of cornbread. Yet those beans and bread are what someone needs to survive…and all that someone else is able to provide. God doesn’t often pick perfect people to work through: Abraham was a liar, Moses was a murderer, Joseph was a brat. We have to look deep within each other to find God and see the greater truth of the work that is being done. Birth, even when it is the birth of ideas and understanding, is painful and uncomfortable – but always results in some sort of new life. Sit with that discomfort, find out where it comes from. Life is not static…it moves and breaths and, most importantly, it changes. Don’t fight the change before you take the time to try to understand it – because it may be in that moment that you most clearly see God’s love.