Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (Genesis 50) transports me to Coconut Grove, Florida, home of Bernie and Roz Fockers, who are meeting the Byrnes of Oyster Bay, Long Island, parents of their prospective daughter-in-law Pam, for the first time. It’s the quintessential clash of cultures, and a comedy of errors ensues, with the up-tight military man Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) battling wits with the loosy goosy Bernie Focker (Dustin Hoffman). Jack plans to spend the weekend evaluating the Fockers to see if they are a worthy match, if they can be included in his “circle of trust,” and it doesn’t take him long to conclude his assessment. He confronts Greg Focker (Ben Stiller), his prospective son-in-law, with his misgivings: Greg, a man reaches a certain age when he realizes what’s truly important. Do you know what that is? To which Greg replies, Love, friendship… just love, I think. No; Jack gives him the right answer: His legacy. Jack goes on to explain, If your family’s circle joins in my family’s circle, they’ll form a chain. I can’t have a chink in my chain.
Jack Byrnes was operating under the commonly held illusion that you can script, orchestrate, and choreograph your legacy, engineering every move and every relationship in order to ensure a progeny that will make you proud. The Hebrew patriarchs couldn’t have held that illusion for long. The story of covenant history is marked by one Focker-type family disaster after another, with mistakes and failures and plans gone awry defining the story of their lives. There were definitely chinks in their chain. The story of Jacob and his sons is a perfect example. You start out with sibling rivalry and jealousy, and things quickly turn ugly, with violence, deception, and a long held family secret, all leading to this final chapter when Joseph is finally reunited with his father and brothers, with hugs and kisses that would make Bernie Focker proud. Joseph understands the real nature of legacy, that it is not in our control. He explains to his reserved and frightened brothers that what they had planned for evil (when they abandoned him to slave traders and told their father he was dead), God used for good. God can take the threads of our foolish and failed lives, and weave all of our foibles into a fantastic narrative of salvation. And so at the end of the day, Jacob joins his fathers in the burial place of Canaan land, only now he is not Jacob, the deceiving, grieving father. He is Israel, father of a nation. And as Joseph approaches his own death and realizes that his burial place will be there in Egypt, he makes his brothers promise that they will one day gather his bones so that he, too, can go to meet his fathers.
We sure stress out a lot in our culture, ringing hands and furrowing brows over our decisions, our mistakes, our foibles. Sometimes we try and ease the stress by asking, Will this make any difference to anybody 50 years from now? And the answer is usually, No. I think, though, that the story of the patriarchs and matriarchs, these fathers and sons and mothers and daughters who wrote the book on dysfunctional families and failed plans, might ask a different question, and get a different answer. Can God take this crazy life of ours and make something out of it, that might even have a bearing on salvation history 50 years from now? The answer, from the patriarchs’ perspective, is Of course, that’s how it has always worked. Understanding this history, we can live our lives and end our lives and go to our fathers with the assurance that we have provided God with some more threads to weave into the fabric of faith, into the mosaic of mercy, into the legacy of life.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with your friends on Google+, FB, Twitter, etc.