- The Washington Times - Monday, October 22, 2001

Excerpts from a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. Peter James at Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna.
Rebecca knew instinctively that she should love her children equally (Genesis 27:1-10). All the parent's magazines so much as said so. Lord knows she had tried to love both Esau and Jacob, without showing any favoritism.
They were fraternal twins, but as different as two children could be. Esau was the son of his father, a hunter, thick with hair and "a man's man." Jacob was the son of his mother. He had skin like the people we see on television. He liked to do things around the house, and he could cook the finest homemade stew.
One day Esau returned from a hunt, and he was so famished that in an incredibly shortsighted act, he sold his birthright to Jacob for some of that stew. … In those days, before a father died, he bestowed a blessing on his eldest son. And when that time came, Jacob, with the urging of his mother, Rebecca, put on his brother's cloths and skins, with the smell of the out of doors. He impersonated Esau to receive the blessing from his blind father.
I always thought it ironic that Jacob, who had the moxie to wrestle with an angel, wouldn't dare tangle with his mother. He did as he was told. Here is a mother who will go to any length to get her favorite son the blessing. … If I was Isaac, I might have thought, "I'll just recall the blessing that Jacob stole," but it didn't work that way in ancient culture. Once you announced your blessing, it cannot be revoked. Your word almost had a magical power.
This fall we have been looking at foundation stories in the Bible, and this is a classic tale. We can learn from it at three levels. First, it is a story about a family, and a rather dysfunctional family, judging by the four characters. When I learned about George Washington as a child, he was a mythical character. His story was all cleaned up. I learned about the cherry tree, and not telling a lie, but not about the slave holdings. But there's no cleaning up in the Bible. Our biblical heroes have feet of clay.
The story even begins, "Isaac loved Esau, but Rebecca loved Jacob." There's trouble from the start, as a Parenting 101 course might say. But something more was going on here, for God came to Rebecca with a great interest in those twins. What happens is that God tampers with that "first born" tradition. And I interpret it to mean that all children must be blessed. We as parents or adults often withhold that blessing. Our culture makes you earn it. I know some adults who are still trying to receive their parents' blessing.
The next level is a story of nations, for from Jacob and Esau arose two peoples. The descendents, we are told, are the Israelites and the Edomites. I'm often confused on these points, but I also wonder if our current global conflicts aren't wrapped up in these ancient resentments.
Now, when we get to the top level, this story is foremost about God. The entire Bible is God's story of redeeming people. When you think of it that way, the main actor in this human drama is God, sometimes off stage or working in the shadows. When Rebecca comes before God when the twins struggled and her womb shook, God said, "The older shall serve the younger." He is working out His purpose of redemption.
When we read the great stories of the Bible, they are so altogether human. I often wonder, "Why does God work with these people?" God associates with some pretty shadowy characters, and sojourns with the unworthy. But in history, God works His purpose of redeeming man. It's a messy business redeeming people.
This is good news for us. You don't need to have all your stuff together to meet God. We don't have to be a perfect nation, perfect families or have perfect lives. You don't have to. No matter where you are, God's love is there, redeeming a nation, a family, an individual life.
Next week: Monsignor John J. Enzler of Our Lady of Mercy parish in Potomac
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