Genesis 25: 19-34
I love the Godly Play story of Abraham because it tells the whole sweep of the story, but also talks about our place in that story.
When we’re reading any of the historical stoires of the Old Testament – the Hebrew scriptures, we can read them as accounts which explain for us something of the history of God’s people but they are also stories which help us see what it means for us each to be a part of that people of God.
So in reading or hearing the story of Jacob and Esau, we can read it for what it says to us about their walk with God – and what this means for our walk with God.
The United Reformed Church has resolved to spend the next few years focusing on “Walking the Way” – asking how we can learn how to follow Jesus more closely and so do God’s will more faithfully in our lives.
What do Jacob and Esau have to teach us about this?
Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk & writer of 20th century, wrote this:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
How can we try to walk the way God wills for us and how can we gain God’s blessing in our lives?
Jacob – teaches us to cheat, lie, deceive, run away, hide, fight, eventually give up and through yourself on God’s mercy.
In this story of Jacob and Esau the terrible surprise is that God blesses Jacob, not Esau.
So what did Esau do wrong? Maybe it was that he didn’t care – he didn’t ‘desire to do God’s will’.
Some Jewish rabbis teach that Esau’s first mistake is to go out hunting at all.
Jacob is cooking a lentil stew (“mess of Pottage” in King James’ version) – traditional dish cooked when people are in mourning – partly because it is cooked with store cupboard type ingredients – lentils, onions, spices – and partly because there is a Jewish tradition of giving grieving people ‘round’ food, to remind them of the circle of life, and lentils are round. Fairly tasteless, but round. There is therefore a theory that Jacob was cooking the stew because Isaac, his father was still mourning Abraham, his grandfather.
So Esau is breaking his time of mourning by going hunting – and then arrives home “starving” and wants to eat.
Of course Jacob is being manipulative in offering the stew in return for Esau’s birthright – but Esau didn’t have to agree the deal – he clearly thinks so little of his birthright – or maybe be thinks that Jacob won’t be able to see the deal through – that he agrees. Esau doesn’t care.
And whatever you might think about Jacob – he cares about the birthright. He cares enough to force through this deal, and he cares enough about his father’s blessing that he later tricks him with another stew.
So Jacob – who cares, but is, to say the least, sneaky, is blessed by God and becomes known as Israel, and is the father of God’s chosen people.
But Esau, who doesn’t care, loses his rights as first-born and becomes the Father of the Edomites, who are for may generations treated as slaves by the people of Israel.
And it may be that the first tellers of the tale of Esau and Jacob also wanted us to know that Esau didn’t care about God, either.
After the Temple had been built by Solomon, the first born son of every family of the people of Israel had the responsibility to serve in the Temple. Listeners might have been particularly shocked that Esau sold his rights as first-born, not only because of the financial implications, but also because of a ducking out of religious duties.
Esau didn’t care about his rights as first-born, he didn’t care about mourning the dead, he didn’t care about religious duty, he didn’t care about God.
Meanwhile Jacob did care, and though he was, to say the least, a scoundrel, he gains God’s blessing.
I think there is some tremendously good news for us here.
I don’t know how you feel to be doing this week as a follower of Jesus.
I’ve had the usual sort of week…
I haven’t prayed enough, or given enough time to reading the Bible. I have been ‘sharp’ with some people – even lost my temper and had a little rant at times, and I certainly have had thoughts about throttling some people, even if I haven’t actually gone through with it. I have probably missed chances to be more kind and loving because I’ve been too wrapped up in myself…. I could go on.
I am a very inadequate disciple of Jesus, and in part I’m here worshipping God this morning because I need to ask for forgiveness and a fresh start.
This story of Esau and Jacob gives me hope that God can still forgive me and reshape me and use me in the kingdom. As Thomas Merton says, I believe that when I come to God “the desire to please you does in fact please you”. I am a very inadequate disciple of Jesus – but I care and I’m trying.
And this offer of bread and wine on the table can seal the deal.
It’s not a deal like the one Jacob makes with Esau ‘this stew for your birthright” – God does not ask for my independence in return for this food.
It’s not a trick like the stew Jacob gives Isaac, to convince him that he is actually talking to Esau – we are not trying to set this table and convince God we are something we’re not.
This meal is a gracious gift from God, in fact it celebrates the grace of God in giving us the gift of God’s very self – made flesh and blood and dying and living for us.
Being an inadequate follower of Jesus is enough – because Jesus comes to meet us at this table and feeds us with himself, so that we can be strengthened to follow more closely in the future.
So come and eat and drink this sacrament to your comfort – and find here the grace of God, as it was offered even to Jacob, offered for you.
In the name of Jesus our Saviour. Amen.