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Wednesday, February 19, 2014


We are reading Genesis in our Morning Prayer lectionary and Sunday morning we read from chapter 29. The story of Jacob is somewhat troubling. He is, after all, the actual Father of the tribes. Abraham is the great-grandfather, technically. Jacob is portrayed as a usurper, a grasper, someone who from before his birth was reaching out to grasp what belonged to his brother. Jacob uses deceit to gain his brother's blessing (with his mother's inspiration it should be added)--going so far as to wear his brother's clothing and place lamb wool on his body to fool the blind old man. The Torah text leaves us hanging as to God's view of it all. No editorial comments are provided. No judgment made one way or the other.

Jacob has a resemblance to a common figure in ancient narratives the world over: the trickster. Jacob is 'the thief' who is adept at burglary, taking what is his brother's and making it his own. However, as Jacob leaves (his brother threatened to kill him once their father, Isaac, died) he reveals that deceit is his sole strength. Esau is a red, wild man. An outdoors man who is adept with the bow. Jacob is a self described smooth skinned, inside guy. He is the archetypical sissy and momma's boy.

Jacob comes to find his true love, Rachel, and works seven years to earn her from his uncle (and future father-in-law). The narrative blows over seven years with little detail. We are told Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her. Wow, she must have been something! However, as many of us already know, on the wedding night, the veiled bride with whom he is wed is not Rachel, it is her sister Leah. The shocked Jacob cries to his father-in-law What is this you have done to me?...Why did you deceive me?

Why indeed?
The trickster now tastes his own medicine. The deceiver reaps what he has sown: deception. Later in the story his grown sons will sell his favorite into slavery (Joseph) and deceive him with a story that their brother must have been consumed by a wild beast. Jacob will suffer much in the years ahead. Perhaps that is the point.

God has given the world to our care. We shape it and make it. Our choices, for good or ill, help create the spiritual and physical environment in which we live. We need to be careful, as Jesus said, because we reap what we sow. What goes around comes around. The measure with which we give is the measure which we receive. Jacob illustrates that that is not always a good thing for us, especially in our acts of deception!

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