The story in Genesis chapter 25 can be read at many levels. It is a dramatic tale about family life, and deception over an inheritance of blessing, where a birthright was sold to satisfy an immediate need or hunger. Within the story there are choices and contrasts. It is also a story set within a larger saga of salvation, where God is deemed to work through ordinary, flawed people in families, who struggle, and experience conflict. Conflict is seen here in the expression of divided loyalties, when one parent favours one child over another. For father Isaac, it is Esau, and for mother Rebekah, it is Jacob. A clue in the story is the names of the sons which emphasise the plot, Jacob means ‘supplanter’ and he will supplant Esau, whose name means ‘hairy’ and this attribute is used against him.
Jacob it seems is a ‘trickster, though his mother Rebekah coached him for the role. Joseph Campbell, renowned writer on myths and religion, understood the trickster figure occurred in many ancient stories. The role of the trickster is to bring in ‘an upsetting factor’ which can also be creative. I wonder when we read the scripture stories, if we might find other trickster figures, (perhaps even Jesus?). And in the stories of our lives whether we might find things, situations, or people that were initially upsetting, because they challenged us, our traditions and worldviews, but later we saw how they offered an opportunity for something new to emerge.
Surprisingly, in the Genesis story what should’ve happened didn’t. For, it would have been expected that the older son would have received the blessing from father Isaac, according to that patriarchal tradition. Instead it is the younger son who receives it. (the surprise choice of the younger son over the older brothers is also in the story of the anointing of shepherd King David). Jacob, Rebekah’s choice, deceives, by impersonating his brother Esau and is blessed before Isaac dies and so a legacy is passed on.
The story of the sibling rivalry of Esau and Jacob is understood as a backdrop to the emergence of two nations. Jacob will later emerge with a new name, ‘Israel’. Esau was said to be patriarch of the Edomite nation. Tribalism and the story of one people or culture dominating another is often there under the surface in our own stories and lives. It is only in recent times, that we as a Uniting Church have sought to walk together as First and Second peoples, to redress some past injustices and suffering. The radical message of Jesus in Galatians 3:28 poses a reconciliation of past national divides, where ‘in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free’. This invited a quite different community than fostering the old rivalries.
It was reassuring to hear the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison announce this week: ‘We are all Victorians now!’ rather than seeing Victoria as marginalised, when compared to other states because of our current lockdown restrictions and border closures due to increasing covid-19 cases.
As followers of Christ we would do well to ponder the source of many rivalries between states, nations and in families in the light of Jesus’ teachings. How might we be different today as disciples discovering new ways of being together?
Rev Lynette Dungan