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Getting Ready for Sunday

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Jacob and Esau. What's the point of this here? And how do we make sense of Esau? The red hair, the hunt, the birthright? Esau comes to us more like a barbarian than the civilized (implied Torah observant) Jacob. Esau appears as a stranger from the womb, though the same womb as his brother. This stranger has rights to the promises, but they are lost to him, as seemed rightful from the start. The outsider was destined to lose.

What's the point here?

Is rejected Esau only necessary as a foil to highlight that Jacob is chosen? But is it necessary to do that in such a blunt fashion, one brother over another? Paul tells us that this is exactly the point, so that grace might be established. By divine choice the promise is carried forward, not blood. If so, what then happens to Esau? What happens to the rejected one? Is the foil simply dismissed? But why repeat this pattern over and over in the OT? Cain and Able, Abraham and Lot, Jacob and Esau, Saul and David, Israel and Judah? If the rejected is dismissed and destined to wither under the sun of the chosen, why does the OT keep circling around the rejected?

Let's ask this another way. What was the purpose of the laws in Leviticus? Many seem to have been given in order to separate the people from the Canaanites. If you can't eat pork, you can't eat in a Canaanite home that does. If you are forced to dress in a certain way, then you will always stand apart. Jew and Gentile were to remain distinct and separate.

But in Christ both are joined together. Gentile and Jew found in the one flesh of Christ. The offense of such an idea! The humiliation! Jews on par with Gentiles! And the confusion. Where these not laws given by God to his people? Inviolable, perpetual laws, recorded by Moses on Sinai in the deafening thunder and blinding lightening? And so the Pharisees are shocked at Jesus. Peter himself is shocked at the net full of unclean creatures. Jewish Christians are shocked at the ministry of Paul.

But this idea was always in the OT. God embracing all began in Genesis (earth and water, sun and moon), then continued in the life of his own people (Saul and David, Judah and Israel). Jesus may have looked and dressed like a Jew, but he took the skin of not only a Jew, but of a Canaanite as well.

So, why the distinctions to begin with? Why Esau and Jacob? Because the Gospel is not Gnostic. It must be embodied. And if embodied, it must look like something. God never preached a generic abstract bodiless love. He committed himself to a particular form; he chose it and lived and died by it. Limits need not mean the need to reject those on the other side. It means gratefulness for your form as given to you by God and living and dying in the form. And it means submitting to the form chosen by God to carry his promise forward. Without that there is no Gospel. For without commitment to a form there is no incarnation, no Israel, no Abraham, no creation (and all the struggles that most certainly will attend commitment to your form! Israel struggled in horrible convultions merely leaning to be Israel. Jesus himself said, "How long must I remain with you?" But remain he did, unto death.)

Beware the American conception of the individual. It is almost entirely disembodied gnosticism, as if the human person was unformed clay. Not so. The clay has already been formed and given breath. Why else did Paul say that it is not important if a slave is freed, but to accept one's place in life (one's form!). You may look like a Canaanite, you may look like a Jew, but you cannot look like a Jew today, a Canaanite tomorrow. The form is given. Embrace. Be grateful. Live. Die. And wait for the resurrection. If you are a Canaanite, fine. But you must bow before the chosen Jew. And if you are a Jew, so be it. But you must welcome the rejected Canaanite. For such was the reconciliation of Jacob and Esau. The rejected Esau welcomed home the chosen son. And Jacob embraced his rejected brother. Thus becoming one new man.

Esau couldn't escape his form. He woke up with it, was born with it. It doesn't mean he's out of reach from the covenant promises. It does mean that he must come to terms with rejection, in order to be chosen.

One's form may be Esau or Jacob. Neither are out of reach of the incarnation. Although the promise may be carried forward by only one (David is over Saul and Judah over Israel), even still, both are contained in the one flesh of the Son of Man, who was both chosen and rejected.

Paul may have said that the promise is established by grace alone, not blood, but the shock that fell upon Israel in the  incarnation is that the divine choice has been for all, Jew and Gentile, chosen and rejected, to be embraced by Christ. Even the rejected branch will be grafted back into the tree. For there is now no condemnation for those in Christ. 


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This is a blog of essays meant to prepare parishioners for an upcoming Sunday reading.