Saturday, July 08, 2017

May God Give to You the Dew of the Heavens

So, when Esau went out into the country to hunt some game for his father, Rebekah [then] took the best clothes of her older son Esau that she had in the house, and gave them to her younger son Jacob to wear; and with the skins of the kids she covered up his hands and the hairless parts of his neck. Then she handed her son Jacob the appetizing dish and the bread she had prepared.  Genesis 27:14-17

“No one patches an old cloak with a piece of unshrunken cloth, for its fullness pulls away from the cloak and the tear gets worse. People do not put new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” Matthew 9:16-17

"May God give to you
of the dew of the heavens
And of the fertility of the earth
abundance of grain and wine. Genesis 27:28

Many of the sons and brothers we encounter in the Hebrew Bible weave tangled, conflicted webs.  Jacob and Esau were the sons of Isaac and Rebekah and the first twins mentioned in the Bible. Even before birth, they struggled with each other in the womb. Such a prenatal shoving match foreshadowed the conflicts to come. 

The twins grew up to be very, very different. Jacob was “a quiet man, staying among the tents” and grew to be his mother’s favorite. Esau was “a skillful hunter, a man of the open country” and his father’s favorite. Prior to the episode in today’s reading, one day, Esau returned from hunting famished.  He wanted some of the lentil stew that Jacob cooked up. Jacob figured to outsmart his older brother and offered some stew in exchange for his birthright—the special honor that Esau possessed as the older son, which gave him the right to a double portion of his father’s inheritance. That must have been some tasty stew because Esau put his temporary, physical needs ahead of his legal rights and sold his birthright to Jacob.

Such impulsive actions show us that Esau did not value his birthright over a bowl of lentil stew.  Therefore, some would say that he did not deserve to be the one to continue Abraham's responsibilities.  Esau did not exhibit the steady, thoughtful qualities required of a leader.

The notes of the NABRE pick up explaining the episode in our first reading from the Hebrew Bible -- this climactic wresting away of the blessing of Esau.  Through further deception (this time coupled with a cunning disguise), Jacob conspires with his mother to steal away Isaac’s blessing for Esau –- in addition to his already obtained birthright. This would make the “theft” of the land complete.

Esau’s life reminds us to hold fast to what is truly important, even if it means denying the appetites of the flesh. Both Old and New Testaments use the story of Jacob and Esau to illustrate God’s calling and election. God upset the natural order of things to choose the younger Jacob to carry on the Abrahamic Covenant and father twelve sons who would lead the twelve tribes of Israel.[i]

The external skins (Jacob wearing Esau’s clothing) are not what is most important.  The outside is only skin-deep. What is inside – in the heart and in the soul -- is more important than what we want to put into our stomachs.  That is the corresponding lesson in today’s Good News. 

The limits of the skins of traditional Hebrew Law are represented by the old wineskins in Matthew’s reading. Old wineskins had been "stretched to the limit" or become brittle as wine had fermented inside them; using them again, therefore, risked bursting them. Jesus is the new wine that could not be contained by old wineskins.

Just as the relationship between Jacob and Esau was not limited by the traditional structures of birthright, Jesus and his teachings on fasting and more were not limited by the ways people interpreted old Hebrew law.

Just like the Pharisees had issues with how the disciples did not fast, what are some of the issues you have with modern Church law?  Conflicts came through in the news this week as the Catholic governor of Virginia refused to commute a death penalty sentence and proceeds to allow the execution of a mentally ill man.

How can you follow the “fresh wine” Jesus offers with the ideas you have?

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