Last week Isaac and Rebekah are newlyweds. Twenty years later, today, they are childless. Isaac keeps hoping. They keep trying, until the day he applies for Medicare only to find pediatrics is not covered. When our options have been exhausted – we’ve tried everything, what then do we do? We pray. “Lord, the clock’s ticking. We still have no child,” Before he ends the prayer, the narrator says Rebekah is with child. What’s been the problem? Was the Lord just waiting to be asked?
Ask, and it shall be given, knock and the door opens – well, sometimes, and maybe not as we wish. Rebekah’s not exactly radiant and matronly. She has inward turmoil: “If this is what having a child is about, why do I live?” The Lord answers, “You’re having twins, and if you think they don’t play well together now – just wait. They are two peoples, and they won’t get along outside the womb either. But that’s not all. The elder will serve the younger.” In ancient times, the first born receives two-thirds and other borns divide the leftovers. It’s the inheritance, the birthright, the will, and the law of the land. Did you catch it? The Lord violates the law, and disorders social order. He’s darn good at it, too. He once tells Peter in a rooftop vision, “Don’t call what I make unclean,” meaning welcome the Gentiles in – that’s what God has wanted all along – everybody’s welcome home. Jesus is accused of disregarding the law – healing and picking grain on the Sabbath, breaking natural laws, like changing water into wine, healing people, walking on water, raising the dead. Who forgives trespasses just for asking, loves unconditionally, shows mercy to enemies? That sure runs against the law of our land, written or assumed.
The boys are born. The first one is red and hairy, named Esau meaning “red” or “earthy.” Esau’s lust for red stew will undo his future. The second son, Jacob, is born catching a ride out on Esau’s heel. Jacob means “heel” according to some scholars, and he turns out to be a big one.
The boys grow up. “Red” joins the NRA, Wildlife Club, and has his own deer stand. “Heel” is quiet, stays indoors and watches the Food Network. Mom gravitates toward Jacob; dad toward Esau. You know how family dysfunction is game even parents play.
Now the plot thickens, as does Jacob’s savory stew, just as Esau comes in from the woods. Maybe Jacob knows Esau’s stomach overrides his brain. “Gimme some red stuff, I’m starving,” Esau orders like an uncouth ogre. “First sell me your birthright.” “I’m going to die anyway so it won’t do me any good.” And Esau, who’s never had a gratification he couldn’t delay, sells his birthright for a bowl of stew, bread and grog. He slurps it down, and then wipes his mouth on his sleeve, burps and leaves. The Jewish Study Bible says Esau spurns his birthright, not just despises it. And off stage, Rebekah watches and giggles as the Lord’s word comes to pass. The lesson: don’t strike a deal on an empty stomach.
Neither boy is much. Yet God will work with this family, as dysfunctional as they are – which means God even can work with people like us. We can and will frustrate God’s purposes in spite of ourselves – yet God still moves us along to an end He has in mind. No mess up’s; no screwy relatives; no bad choices; no devious brothers; or short-sighted dummies thwart God’s will and promise. God claims us all – savory and unsavory alike. Those first chosen are not the only chosen in God’s reign. We may have certain differences, yet God stirs us into a stew, a community of faith to love one another and welcome everyone, not merely tolerate others. We add herbs, and spices, vegetables to our soups and stews for a reason. Why? Otherwise the soup would be bland. In some unique way we each are different, and bring something valuable to the whole. That’s the high mark of our faith and love for God, how we treat one another. We celebrate differing gifts, backgrounds, experiences. It’s theological, not social. It’s God at work, not just us being nice.
Jesus tells of a sower who doesn’t seem to know much about farming. Even I know better than to toss seed on hard places, thorny places, and vulnerable places. Jesus doesn’t seem to mind. What counts is that in the end God pulls off something wonderful.
At the Wednesday lectionary study, we were asked, “What is your birthright – your inheritance?” Our birthright, our inheritance – in Jesus we are all God’s beloved, unconditionally loved and forgiven – that’s what Paul say to the Romans. The inheritance is not for some, but for all – first born and last born. We, bearing this inheritance, sow seeds of God’s love, kindness, mercy, grace – not worrying about where they land or if they will take root. That’s God’s business. It is grace to us – freely given and not meant to be kept, but scattered where ever we go. And if you’re not sure about your true inheritance, remember the story of Esau and Jacob, and hang on. If God weaves them into a future they could never imagine, trust God is still doing that — not just for first borns, but for all borns – not for some, but for all.