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A series of essays in the Episcopal Church


Genesis 27:30-45 homily

“Have you only one blessing, Father?”

 

 

Genesis 27:30-45 homily

David Frazelle  dfrazelle@vts.edu

2-12-04, VTS Chapel

 

The story of Jacob, Esau, Rebekah and Isaac is our story. The Saints of the early Church read the passage that we heard this morning as an allegory of the people of God and their mother Church. Cyril of Alexandria,[1] Ambrose of Milan[2], Augustine of Hippo[3], Romanos the Melodious[4], and scores of other Patristic theologians[5] saw Jacob and Esau as icons of the people of God. Rebekah, in this typology, presents the figure of Mother Church, and Isaac represents God the Father, the giver of blessing. These saints of the first six centuries of Christianity give us a valuable spiritual insight into the meaning of this morning’s Old Testament passage for us today. For the story of Jacob, Esau and their parents is indeed the story of Christians in the Church today.

Listen, first of all, to the two brothers’ ardent longing for their father’s blessing.

Listen to Esau’s great and bitter cry, “Bless me, me also, Father!” “Have you only one blessing, Father? Bless me, me also, Father.” See Jacob and Rebekah’s elaborate schemes to procure that blessing. Notice Isaac’s longing to give that blessing, and his violent trembling at his inability to bless his firstborn son. Feel Esau’s murderous rage at being cheated out of his blessing.

Is not their longing our longing? Do not we Christians, like Jacob and Esau, desire our heavenly Father’s blessing with a deep, primal longing? Do we not, like Isaac, yearn to participate in God’s blessing by proclaiming it to other people? Are we not wounded at the core of our being when we perceive the absence or loss of that blessing, and are we not then filled with dangerous rage?

For a long time, I simply did not understand the passion and emotion behind the current controversy in the Church regarding the sexuality of a Bishop in New Hampshire and the blessing of gay and lesbian couples. But then one day early this year, I glanced at a table with some Christian resources on sexuality and homosexuality. One of the booklets was entitled, “Claim the Blessing.” When I saw that booklet, I began to understand the passion behind the controversy. I began to see that our common longing for God’s blessing was driving the emotional charge of the conflict over sexuality. The ardent emotions of many in the Church about this issue are related to Esau’s ardent cry this morning, “Have you only one blessing, Father? Bless me, me also, Father.” If my brother receives the blessing there will be none left for me. Yes, the story of Isaac, Jacob and Esau is our story.

And so we struggle with our brothers and sisters, grasping at each other’s heels.

We position ourselves to receive the blessing over our brothers and sisters. We struggle in the womb of mother Church, and the struggle is enough to make her cry out in the words of Rebekah that we heard on Monday, “If it is to be this way,” Lord, “why do I live.” The story of Rebekah and her children is our story.

But the story does not end here! There is another passage in this narrative. There is another passage which is part of our story, another passage into which we are invited to live. The passage comes in Chapter 33 of Genesis. Jacob has fled his brother’s wrath and prospered in another region, but he has subsequently worn out his welcome at his father-in-law’s house and is no longer welcome in that area. God has spoken to Jacob, saying “Return to your country and to your kindred,” and Jacob has decided to obey God’s voice. So we find Jacob in chapters 32 and 33 returning to Esau and desiring to be reconciled with his brother.

Jacob sends presents ahead and devises defensive strategies in case Esau attacks. Jacob finally approaches Esau, bowing repeatedly to the ground. But all his defensive strategies are to no avail, because when Esau sees him he runs to meet his brother and flings his arms around his brother’s neck and kisses him. And they stand together, Jacob and Esau, in that embrace, and weep together.

Esau hesitates to receive the abundant gifts that Jacob offers. But Jacob persuades him to receive his gifts, saying, “Please; if I find favor with you, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God – since you have received me with such favor.”

What is stopping us from making this part of the story our story, if not the childish fear that God has but one blessing? We forget that we who have been baptized into Christ have already received the blessing for which we yearn so ardently. The blessing of our Heavenly Father thundered out of the sky at our baptisms, when God said, “You are my child, the beloved, with whom I am well-pleased.” We cannot steal a blessing that has already been given. Nor can we be threatened by another’s blessing when we know our own blessing. We can only receive the blessing that God has given once and for all.

Yes, my brothers and sisters; the story of Jacob and Esau is our story to claim and to live in all of its fullness and grace and reconciliation. What, then, is to stop the reconciliation of Jacob and Esau from becoming our reconciliation? What is to stop us from returning to one another and flinging our arms around each other’s necks? What is to stop us from seeing in each other’s faces the face of God? “Join hands disciples of the faith, what’er your race may be! Who serves my Father as his child is surely kin to me. In Christ there is no East nor West, in him no South or North, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.”

 



[1] Romanos le Melode. Hymnes. Introduction, texte critique, traduction et notes par Jose Grosdidier de Matons. Dans Sources Chretiennes #99, Editions du Cerf, Paris, 1964, p. 168.

[2] Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Ed. by Mark Sheridan. Vol. “Old Testament II.” Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 2002, p. 177.

[3] Ibid. pp. 177, 180.

[4] Romanos le Melode. “Hymne sur Jacob.” See especially stanzas 17 and 19.

[5] See, for example, Caesarius of Arles and Hippolytus of Rome in Ancient Christian Commentary, pp. 146-148; 170-171.


You are welcome to submit your essays for consideration for this series. Send them to lcrew@newark.rutgers.edu Identify yourself by name, snail address, parish, and other connections to the Episcopal Church. Please encourage others to do the same.

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