Jacob travels alone – a road trip. Mom has said to dad: “Isaac, Esau keeps bringing home those trashy Hittite women to marry. Jacob can do better. Let’s send him to my family.” Isaac agrees.
Hold on – we have missed a subplot. Jacob’s on the lam. He’s deceived his father and gains the family blessing Isaac was holding for Esau. Once more, poor, dumb Esau is Miss Congeniality. Esau is furious, and decides to kill his brother. Jacob wisely enters a witness protection program – going off to sojourn far away, with Uncle Laban.
This night Jacob is worn out. He’s too tired to set up his tent and unroll his sleeping bag. He mistakes a big stone for a pillow. Soon he’s asleep and dreaming. In the dream, the Lord happens by and together they watch a spectacular show. Angels go up and down a ladder stretching from earth into heaven. Evidently Jacob hasn’t yet met God: “I am the God of Abraham, God of Isaac.” “Yes, dad’s spoken of you. Good to meet you.” The Lord announces that Jacob will carry the promise on – the land, offspring, and blessings. “Are you sure, Lord. You know my brother wants to kill me.” “Not to worry, son. I know. I’m with you and will bring you back here, Promise.”
The dream ends. Jacob awakens: “Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it. Wow! Awesome! This is the house of God, the gateway of heaven.” And from that moment on, the place is called “Bethel,” meaning “house of the Lord.” Jacob up rights his pillow and makes it a pillar, anoints it, says a few Hail Mary’s, and leaves. Houses of the Lord were less ornate back then.
I wonder why God wouldn’t have picked a more trustworthy partner for the promise. Actually, God’s choices are limited. Abraham’s eligible grandsons are: Jacob, a deceptive, lying cheat; or Esau, a big, dumb lugnut who loses a birthright and can’t snag a blessing. God seems to want our attention more than our perfection. God has a long history of picking some unlikely folks. God picks Abraham’s family, people like Moses, a prostitute named Rahab, philandering king David, and some slow witted disciples to move the promise along – a rather weedy cast of characters.
Why doesn’t God choose better people? What would they be like? Jesus tells a parable about weeds and wheat growing together. An enemy ruins a wheat field, secretly planting weed seeds one night. When the farmhands notice, they ask: “Do you want us to pull the weeds?” “No, let them grow together. At harvest time, it’ll all be sorted out.”
At the Wednesday lectionary study, we wondered if Jesus will separate wheat and weeds as reward or punishment. If so, hope you’re wheat. That weeping and teeth gnashing sounds bad. One participant confessed to being both wheat and weeds at the same time – growing together. Maybe we are more both/and than either/or. Esau was not all bad – not real bright, but not totally in the weed pile. And Jacob was not exactly a fine specimen of pure wheat.
In light of all this I have been thinking: I have come to believe God made mosquitoes to annoy us. However for birds, fish, dragonflies and other insects, mosquitoes are “wheat,” flying meals.
I go running by the lake for exercise. Sorry, if I sound harsh, but red-tip blackbirds are weeds. They attack humans. I have been a victim numerous times. They swoop down out of nowhere. At a certain place on the trail I know I’ll get pecked on the back of my head. Do I look like a predator? Yet for their true predators, the raptors, barn owls and fox, they are tasty wheat. Weeds for some can be wheat to others.
Our salvation is that a loving God sorts it all out. And when Jesus talks of a bonfire for evil and weeds, fire is a biblical symbol of purification and cleansing, not annihilation. God knows how to transform evil – showed us at a cross and in resurrection. But when we try to fix others, you know, decide who’s wheat and who’s weeds, we end up making ourselves and others miserable. Let’s remember that when we point out weeds in our lives – the weedy coworker or the family down the street. When we do, we probably aren’t seeing ourselves or others clearly.
God pours divine love into frail, very earthy human vessels like us. God seems to use the weedy parts along with the wheaty parts – so whether we like the weeds or not, they will have their purpose. God doesn’t fail in spite of us. And if God can be faithfully patient with us – maybe we can be that way with ourselves, and each other too.
These ancient families of faith look familiar – sort of like us. In them we will see ourselves and our families, and at same time, the wonder of a grace and love we can never fully understand – at least not in the present.