Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (Genesis 32:6-21; 33:1-11) transports me to the tiny kitchen of my Oakley house, circa 1971, where I spent a great deal of time as a mama’s boy. If I wasn’t at the table eating a meal, I was “helping” her make cakes (licking the bowl) or turning the grinder for the turkey salad or sitting on her lap while she took a break from household chores. My kitchen time was punctuated by the sounds of country music drifting over from the black transistor radio perched on the counter next to the canister of bacon grease. One of the constant songs coming over the AM 570 Radio Ranch airwaves that year was from Lynn Anderson, who belted out the sassy lyrics, I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden. It wasn’t long before I beg your pardon became a catch-phrase for responding to someone who said something they ought not to have said. I beg your pardon, spoken with attitude, translates into, we’ll have none of that talk around here.
Today’s Passage deals with another mama’s boy singing I beg your pardon, but with an entirely different attitude. And instead of a kitchen scene, we are taken to a dusty drovers road where baby boy Jacob is strategically moving cattle, camels, donkeys, sheep, goats, flocks, manservants and maidservants toward a terrifying tête-à-tête with his rough-around-the-edges twin Esau. Jacob fears that twenty years of pent up resentment await him on this road. After all, this proverbial mama’s boy stole his twin’s blessing, with mama aiding and abetting the whole ordeal. Jacob had also exploited Esau’s hunger and bartered for his birthright. To top it off, this deceitful baby of the family became the “one God loved” while elder brother Esau’s fate led him to be the “one God hated.” Esau had some debts to pay, all right. So when it came time for a reunion, Jacob started begging for some serious pardon, offering gifts of livestock, putting buffers between him and Esau’s contingent of 400 men, hoping for some guiding light of grace. The tense build-up to the meeting is over the top, worthy of the best soap opera Friday cliff-hangers. And the denouement, like so many Monday mystery-solved episodes, is surprisingly and almost disappointingly quick and undramatic. Esau is not coming with fighting words after all, but with a full pardon. Somehow – and this is the unsolved mystery – he has worked through all his bitterness and resentment, and simply runs to embrace his trembling brother, kissing him as they both weep. It’s the Reader’s Digest distilled version of reconciliation. There is one beautiful line in the midst of the peacemaking; Jacob looks at his brother, the rejected one, the one the prophet proclaimed hated by God, and he said, to see your face is like seeing the face of God.
Maybe the operatic plot and pace and timing of this drama mirrors what happens in our own lives. We spend so many days of our lives in fear of what might happen if we ever have to approach one who has become an enemy. Whatever that encounter might be, we’re pretty sure it won’t be a walk in a rose garden. And so we turn away from opportunities to engage the hostile forces in our lives; we are basically conflict averse, and run scared from such encounters. The amount of psychic energy we put into dreading our worst fears, and then planning and strategizing our moves to avoid those fears, is way over the top. And then, I suspect that some of the encounters turn out to be fairly simple and undramatic. If we can get through our herds of donkeys and camels and sheep and goats that we put to buffer our meeting, if we can get past the begging for pardon and get on with it, we might just find that looking into our enemy’s face, the face of the one rejected and despised and feared for so long, is like seeing the face of God. And then we can sing a different verse of Lynn Anderson’s song: So smile for a while and let’s be jolly: Love shouldn’t be so melancholy. Come along and share the good times while we can.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.