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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Genesis 25:19–34          

These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.” When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. (NRSV)

It’s easy to read this story and think that Esau is not the sharpest tack in the box. How do you sell your inheritance for a bowl of stew? That Esau, what a dolt.

It’s also easy to see Jacob as conniving and manipulative, out to cheat his brother. He’s home cooking a meal, and his brother, who has been out in the field comes in hungry and wants some of the family meal. “Yeah, you can have some of the family meal if you give me your future.” As if the family dinner table was just a venue for extortion. That Jacob, what a jerk.

The revered patriarchs, huh?

What is a birthright, anyway? Something you get simply by being born. You don’t work for it. You don’t strive to secure it. It’s just yours. And it’s sad, but that makes it all too easy to value lightly and surrender cheaply.

The story asks us to consider the nature of our own birthright, as Americans and as human beings. What is that great prize, conferred on us through the simple act of being born? Is it a free country that allows all citizens the possibility of a full life, that extends to each generation the possibility of a better life than the one before it? Is it a planet that supports and nourishes life, a planet that will be a home for our children and their children?

We need to consider just what this birthright of ours is, because the world is full of those who would cheat us out of it for a bowl of red stuff; who would offer us something that should be offered as an expression of community and then take the blessings of the future from us.

We also need to consider the birthright of others and our responsibility to them. Someone’s need is not an opportunity to steal their future. It’s an opportunity to embrace them as family.

Birthrights. We all have them. Here’s hoping we’re smart enough to recognize them.

Lord, teach us to value the blessings of the future, so that we do not sell them for quick and cheap gratification. Let us recognize that all your children have your blessing and protect them as members of our family. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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