May God give to you
of the dew of the heavens
And of the fertility of the earth
abundance of grain and wine.
“Let peoples serve you,
and nations pay you homage;
Be master of your brothers,
and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
Cursed be those who curse you,
and blessed be those who bless you.”
A few years ago, learning of an acquaintance -- a priest and former friar -- who left the church and ordained himself a bishop, I recalled the story of Esau and Jacob. He had, it seemed to me, betrayed his vows and the promise given to him for "a mess of pottage." The story, if not the phrase, appears in Genesis 25: 29-34.
Once, when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Let me gulp down some of that red stuff; I am famished.” That is why he was called Edom. But Jacob replied, “First sell me your right as firstborn.” “Look,” said Esau, “I am on the point of dying. What good is the right as firstborn to me?” But Jacob said, “Swear to me first!” So he sold Jacob his right as firstborn under oath. Jacob then gave him some bread and the lentil stew; and Esau ate, drank, got up, and went his way. So Esau treated his right as firstborn with disdain.My judgment is indeed harsh, and for that reason I hope it has no weight in the Court of God. But it has some justification in the final sentence of the story,
"So Esau treated his right as firstborn with disdain."
The story of Esau's foolishness reminds us to be wary of the promises we make and the bargains we strike. Words mean something and, once spoken, they cannot be taken back. You don't have to be a believer in God to know that truth.
The story also reminds us to pay attention and be alert at all times. Jacob grabbed an opportunity; but Esau was so consumed with his hunger he hardly realized what he was saying.
Esau seemed not to take his little brother seriously though they were precisely the same age. If he was the firstborn it was only by a few minutes. But Esau, the preferred of his father, paid little attention to his twin, the Mama's boy. The lesson there is also clear: treat your enemies with contempt and they'll eat your lunch.
Mind you, Jacob is no one's hero. He is never described as saintly though he does learn a few lessons in his dealings with the God of his grandfather Abraham.
Last Friday we heard God's command to Abraham and all his descendants,
“I am God the Almighty. Walk in my presence and be blameless.”
To walk in God's presence is to know God is always close. It is to be alert to the Spirit:
No longer will your Teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher, And your ears shall hear a word behind you: “This is the way; walk in it,” when you would turn to the right or the left.Esau surely exaggerated when he declared, "“I am on the point of dying. What good is the right as firstborn to me?” He would later eat those words.
Let us be alert to the power of our own words.
|Collect on the Feast of Saint Maria Goretti|