Proper 10A

July 07, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary

    Genesis 25: 19-34

    Author: Scott Hoezee

    Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider

    The fact that “Hairy” and “Heel-Grasper” ever managed to reconcile in later life and live out their years at peace with one another may just be one of the most significant pieces of grace in the Book of Genesis (maybe in the whole Bible!).  We could all tell stories about siblings who never reconcile but whose dysfunctional break-ups were caused by far less severe sets of circumstances than the ones attending Jacob and Esau.

    As readers of the Genesis narrative, we are tipped off early that the younger of the two, Jacob/Heel-Grasper, was destined to be God’s favorite (though why God preferred that scheming little crook is a whole different question).  But even if we were not privy to Rebekah’s pre-natal revelation about the boys jousting with one another in her womb, we would have a pretty good clue early on in this cycle of stories as to which of these two was going to succeed in life.   Esau/Hairy is, to state the matter plainly, just not the sharpest knife in the drawer.  I picture him looking a little like the character of Hoss on the old Bonanza TV show: he had a good heart and was sweet enough as a person but . . . well, the gap-toothed grin and vaguely befuddled look in the eyes told you that this was a guy easy to gang up on mentally.   A clever soul such as Jacob could outwit Esau without much effort at all.   It was shooting fish in a barrel when it came to getting the best of this guy.

    We’re not told but you also have the distinct impression from Genesis 25 that Esau probably didn’t have much use for his sissy of a little brother, the Mama’s Boy if ever there were one.  While Esau and his father sat around swapping hunting stories, downing some stout beer, and belching into the afternoon sun, Jacob would be with his mommy learning the finer points of dicing vegetables and adding just the right soupcon of herbs to make a delicately balanced stew.   For his part, Isaac just didn’t know what to make of his younger boy.  For her part, Rebekah could scarcely abide the aroma that emanated off her older kid.   And so the family quietly divided into two camps, neither fully understanding the other but generally both sides maintained a respectable distance from one another and so avoided open conflict.

    Until, that is, the day when Esau earned a new nickname of “Red” by trading his birthright for some red lentil soup with a side of a sourdough bread Jacob had learned to make under his mother’s culinary tutelage.  It was the ultimate example of impulse buying!   But it soon became a good example of also “buyer’s remorse.”   The stew was good and all and settled Esau’s rumbling gut but he soon realized that Jacob had not been kidding about that birthright thing and that he’d just traded a really wonderful thing for what would forever after be referred to proverbially as “a mess of pottage” (and there are just some things in life for which you really don’t want to be known ever and anon as a proverbial byword!).

    That’s the story in Genesis 25, and it’s a cracking good little narrative.  But how does one preach this without turning it into a cautionary tale or some other moralistic vignette?   What does this passage have to do with grace, with the wider arc of salvation, or with the covenant that God was fulfilling even through this flawed, sometimes silly, and not infrequently tawdry cast of characters?   Well, maybe among other things it’s a reminder that if God’s grace comes to us at all in this world, it comes to us in the midst of our brokenness (and precisely because of that same brokenness, too).   God works in the real (and therefore messy) lives of actual people.   The Bible never pretends that grace and salvation come to the world through only two-dimensional people or plastic saints.   No, God works through people as they are, warts and all, as they say.   God chose Jacob even though—as upcoming weeks in the Common Lectionary will remind us—Jacob’s enrollment in the school of grace would be a long matriculation as God patiently, patiently, patiently worked with one of his squirrelier chosen servants.

    And maybe, just maybe, there is Good News in all that for all of us.  Granted, the underhanded nature of Jacob can be no one’s excuse for being morally lax about addressing one’s character flaws or moral weak spots.  But given that most of us find it a long, slow, and often arduous process to work on those parts of our lives—or our families—where concretely visible sanctification seems neither terribly concrete nor very visible some days, it’s good to know that God does not reject us out of hand on account of our weakness nor does God find it impossible to accomplish his purposes through us just because we’re not yet perfected saints.   God can and does hit straight shots with crooked sticks and now and again he floods whole families with grace upon grace even if that mercy comes through what we might regard as the least likely of candidates.

    God’s plans can and do go forward in this mixed-up, broken, oft-times tawdry world of ours.  Yes, God’s salvation comes precisely because of all those jagged edges but is not derailed on account of life’s oddballs, screw-ups, or scandals.   And for most people who are able honestly to assess their families, their own hearts, and the world around them, that fact alone is worthy of a hearty “Hallelujah” or two!

    Illustration Idea

    From Frederick Buechner’s Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who (Harper and Row, 1979) pp. 31-32:

    “Esau was so hungry he could hardly see straight when his younger twin, Jacob, bought his birthright for a bowl of chili.   He was off hunting rabbits when Jacob conned their old father, Isaac, into giving him the blessing that should have been Esau’s by right of primogeniture.   Eventually it dawned on Esau what his brother was up to and he went slogging after him with a blunt instrument; but the slowness of his wits was compensated for by the generosity of his disposition, and in time the two were reconciled.   Jacob stole Esau blind, in other words, got away with it, and went on to become the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.  It was not all gravy, however.  He knew famine and loss.  He grieved for years over the supposed death of his favorite child.  He was hoodwinked by his own sons as both his father and Esau had been hoodwinked by him, and he died with the clamor of their squabbling shrill in his ears.   Esau, on the other hand, though he’d lost his shirt, settled down in the hill country, raised a large if comparatively undistinguished family, and died in peace.   Thus it seems hard to know which of the two brothers came out ahead in the end.  It seems plain enough, however, that the reason God bypassed Esau and made Jacob heir to the great promise is that it is easier to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear than out of a dim bulb.”

  • The Lectionary Psalms +

    Psalm 119: 105-112

    Author: Doug Bratt

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    Romans 8: 1-11

    Author: Stan Mast