Proper 10A/Ordinary 15A/Pentecost +4
July 10, 2011
Genesis 25 (19-34)
Romans 8 (1-11)
Matthew 13 (1-23)
We’ve all had those moments where stress takes over and we make not-so-great decisions. One friend of mine calls it “Hitting the #%*!-It Button”. We get stressed out over the boss at work: #%*!-it, give me a drink. We get stressed out over the kids at home: #%*!-it, give me a cigarette. We get stressed out over an argument with our partner: #%*!-it, I’m going shopping. The pattern of the #%*!-it Button is: Stress leads to Consumption. It’s not a rational choice. It’s one of those primal, gut-level actions we take when our heart-rate is skyrocketing, our endocrine glands are pumping out stress hormones, and we have no way of releasing them. We feel trapped, so our reptilian brain grabs for the nearest thing that will soothe us, numb us out, and allow us to continue to function in a dysfunctional situation – even if the thing we grab will ultimately mortgage our health, our sanity and possibly our lives. #%*!-it.
In the Hebrew Bible reading today, Esau hits the #%*!-it Button in a really big way. The story of twin brothers Esau and Jacob is ostensibly the story of how the Edomites (Esau’s descendents) and the Israelites (Jacob’s descendents) came into existence. Edom (meaning “Red”) is the nickname that Esau acquired, initially because he had thick, red hair all over his body (“like a hairy mantle” – vv. 25).
He was also nicknamed “Red” because that was the color of the stew for which he gave up his inheritance to his younger brother Jacob. We like to think we would have chosen differently – Give up your inheritance for bread and stew? Are you kidding?? Who does that?
Well, let’s get inside the mind of Esau for a moment. He was the first-born son of the family, which – in a patriarchal society – meant that you were the primaryheir of your father’s property and the family priesthood,
but also of your father’s expectations. Esau was his Daddy’s boy: “Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob” (vv. 28). Esau essentially earned his way into his father’s heart as a “skillful hunter, a man of the field” (vv. 27). Consequently, his father’s love was not completely unconditional. There may have been an unspoken message somewhere not to become like your brother Jacob, who
was “a quiet man, living in tents” (vv. 27). Note that the tents were typically where the women stayed while the men went out hunting.
On that fateful day, “Esau came in from the field and he was famished” (vv. 29). The hunger of a hunter after a long day in the field should not be underestimated. Esau would not have had the benefit
of All-Terrain Vehicles and rifles with laser sights. Hunting in Esau’s time meant tracking (possibly for hours), stalking, striking, wrestling down the prey, making the kill, field-dressing the carcass, and shlepping the whole thing home again (possibly for hours). If you were hunting big game, the process would be far more exhausting and dangerous. Since Esau was “a skillful hunter”, we can reasonably assume he liked to go for the big ones –particularly since that would have made Daddy Isaac proud. So Esau said to Jacob – who was making a stew – “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (vv. 30).
Paul – in the Epistle for this week – might comment that Esau was being (literally!) flesh-minded: “To set the mind on the flesh (Greek: sarkos) is death, but to set the mind
on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:6-8). Esau, the hunter of flesh, was also overpowered by his own flesh – his hunger. The flesh – and its attendant hungers and expectations – was like a big carcass that he carried around with him wherever he went. He wanted unconditional love and approval through his hunting prowess, but all those expectations became so much dead weight on his shoulders.
Jacob, on the other hand (whose name means “he supplants”) cleverly saw his opening and said “First sell me your birthright” (vv. 31). Before we ascribe diabolical motives to Jacob, we should note that cleverness – or Wisdom – was seen as a good quality by the Israelites. They were a small nation and – like the “quiet man” Jacob – had to live by their wits, particularly surrounded by nations that were much larger and more well-armed than they. So there was a reason why Jacob went on to become the father of the Twelve Tribes of Israel: he had his wits about him.
Maybe Esau was too tired and starved (a real possibility) to think clearly. Maybe he had had enough of having to be the biggest and best hunter all the time. For whatever reason, he hit the #%*!-it button: “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” (vv. 32). Jacob insists that Esau swear – Esau swears – he eats, drinks and walks off, and “Thus Esau despised his birthright” (vv. 34). #%*!-it.
So what can we do to avoid hitting the #%*!-it Button and selling our own birthrights – to good health, to sane living, to a peaceful home? We have a clue in the New Testament reading – the Parable of the Seed and the
Sower (Matthew 13:1-23). It has to do with being good soil for the Word – the Good News of God’s unconditional, Covenant-backed love (Hebrew: Chesed). Good soil has depth (understanding) (vv. 19), rootedness (in a loving community) (vv. 21), and is kept clear from the cares and expectations of the world (vv. 22). To some extent, these qualities are in-born traits, but in other ways they can be cultivated – much like good soil. It is possible to make reading and contemplation of inspirational literature a regular part of one’s day. It is possible to make a commitment to regularly attend a loving community of faith. It is possible to practice occasional fasting (from food or any other objects of consumption), so they are put back in their place as the servants of life, rather than its relentless drivers. Professional help should not be ruled out either, particularly where the hungers of the flesh blossom into full-blown addictions and compulsions.
Let us go in God’s blessing to be blessings to others that we come upon. And don’t hit that #%*!-it Button.