Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage (Genesis 33:1-11) takes me to part of the story of Jacob and Esau with which I am least familiar. If you said Jacob and Esau, I would think of the deception, theft, envy, rage, betrayal, abandonment, and cowardice they suffered earlier in Genesis. “I will kill my brother Jacob” was the last we heard from Esau before their reunion and reconciliation in this passage. The word that continues to run through my mind as I read and reread this passage is “grace.” Nothing less can explain the vast distance from murder to total forgiveness and friendship and honor that Esau now extends to Jacob.
I’d like to think I am more like Esau than Jacob, but the fact that Jacob irritates me on so many levels is a sure indication that there is something about Jacob that reminds me of something unforgivable in myself. The traits in Jacob that get under my skin are Jacob as coward, schemer, and manipulator who is also full of greed and arrogance. What an unpleasant combination. It is a very uncomfortable place I find myself when I ask and consider how and where am I like that in my life. Yuk. It’s much easier to focus on Jacob and intensely dislike him.
And yet, Esau runs to Jacob, embraces him, falls on his neck, kisses him, and weeps. I am deeply moved by this display of vulnerability, trust, and joy. In my less enlightened experience, when I have found myself in the presence of someone who has hurt or betrayed me, it is so easy to decline (politely) their offer of hospitality as a way of communicating that I don’t want anything from them. I don’t want my life to touch theirs any more than is absolutely necessary. The is a quiet arrogant righteousness and hard-heartedness in that moment. And even as I say “no thank you,” it is my heart that breaks and remains closed off from love and grace.
When I am able to move beyond the things in Jacob I detest, I can see that Jacob is attempting to honor his brother and compensate him in some way for the blessing he stole 20 years before. And he is richly rewarded when Esau accepts his gifts.
But this leaves me wondering what I miss out on when I fail to run, hug, kiss, and weep? This passage helps me to understand that I miss out on several profound gifts: the gift of the grace of forgiveness. The gift of feeling the abiding and unconditional love of God I experience when my heart remains open to those who have hurt me. The gift of peace of mind and soul that comes from that depth of generosity and kind-heartedness. The gift of the joy of reconciliation. The gift in the profound relief that comes from knowing that the past can finally be the past, and the gift of freedom to live in the present moment, unencumbered by the chains of an unreconciled past.
Thank you, Esau. And, most especially, thank you, Jacob.
Robbin Whittington is Director of the Center for Spiritual Resources, a joint initiative of the Cathedral of All Souls in Asheville, NC, and the Dicocese of WNC.