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Reflecting on the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost: One Day after Sunday (Year A)
Psalter: Psalm 139:13-18
Old Testament: Genesis 32:3-21
Epistle: Revelation 14:12-20
Psalter: Psalm 75
Old Testament: Nahum 1:1-13
Epistle: Revelation 14:12-20
To fulfill the ancient promise of salvation, O God, you made a covenant with our ancestors and pledged them descendants more numerous than the stars. Grant that all people may share in the blessings of your covenant, accomplished through the death and resurrection of your Son and sealed by the gift of your Spirit. Amen.
Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, instructing them, “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, ‘I have lived with Laban as an alien and stayed until now, and I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male and female slaves, and I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight.’ ”
The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed, and he divided the people who were with him and the flocks and herds and camels into two companies, thinking, “If Esau comes to the one company and destroys it, then the company that is left will escape.”
And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, and I will do you good,’ I am not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him; he may come and kill us all, the mothers with the children. Yet you have said, ‘I will surely do you good and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted because of their number.’ ”
So he spent that night there, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau, two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milch camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. These he delivered into the hand of his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, “Pass on ahead of me, and put a space between drove and drove.” He instructed the one in the lead, “When Esau my brother meets you and asks you, ‘To whom do you belong? Where are you going? And whose are these ahead of you?’ then you shall say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob; they are a present sent to my lord Esau, and moreover he is behind us.’ ” He likewise instructed the second and the third and all who followed the droves, “You shall say the same thing to Esau when you meet him, and you shall say, ‘Moreover your servant Jacob is behind us.’ ” For he thought, “I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterwards I shall see his face; perhaps he will accept me.” So the present passed on ahead of him, and he himself spent that night in the camp (Genesis 32:3-21).
The last time Jacob saw Esau he wanted to kill him. Now twenty years later, Jacob is returning home. He sends a message to his brother and in response Esau leaves to come meet Jacob. What is Esau’s intent? Jacob fears that it is to complete what Esau tried twenty years earlier.
Jacob attempts to appease Esau by sending gifts ahead of him; but it is probably less appeasement and more a way of affirming to Esau that Jacob now has plenty and he has no need to steal anything further from him. Perhaps this is way to attempt to bury the hatchet and to let bygones be bygones.
Reconciliation is hard work. Wounds that divide can run deep and they are not easily healed. In their younger days, Jacob hurt Esau in scandalous ways by deceiving their father Isaac into giving Jacob the blessing that was rightly due to Esau, and taking advantage of Esau’s hunger as a way to take his birthright.
But time has a way of changing people. As we get older, certain things take on more significance than the things of the past that we focused on in younger days. Certain things that mattered in youth seem trivial in comparison to what is gained in a longer view of life. Nevertheless, reconciliation is hard work. It is difficult work because it involves difficult things like confession, repentance, and acknowledgment that damage has been done.
Honesty is easy when the truth is affirming, but it is scandalous when we must admit to things we would prefer to ignore. We human beings have an uncanny knack of creating cover stories, interpretations of reality that don’t make us look as bad as things seem. We find ways to rationalize injustice and misery not by denying them completely, but by reinterpreting reality in a way that is less scandalous to us.
Jacob has come to grips with the reality of the hurt he has caused and now he attempts to make amends. Yes, reconciliation is hard work, but it is necessary work. As Paul reminds us, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:9). Such reconciliation cost Jesus his life. Thus, there is no cost too high for the reconciling work of the church in the world.
Jacob and Esau serve as examples that there is always hope for healing.
PRAYER: Steadfast God, teach us your way and your truth. Root us in you alone, help us to grow in grace and love, that we may fulfill our role and our work in the reign of Jesus Christ. Amen.
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