Genesis 25:19-34 and Psalm 119:105-112 • Isaiah 55:10-13 and Psalm 65:(1-8), 9-13 • Romans 8:1-11 • Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
In the Genesis reading, Isaac's wife Rebekah has had twin boys, a situation where birthright has a specific usage: the particular right or privilege of the fortunate first-born son, in this case Esau, who would have a large inheritance coming to him. Esau, a guy with lots of red hair who loved the out-of-doors, was his dad's favorite. Jacob, the younger of the twins and a quieter sort who preferred staying in the camp, was his mother's favorite. The birthright was on younger brother Jacob's mind, as he brings it up in a conversation with Esau, who only wants some lunch!
Once again, the Genesis story brings the reader into the common patterns of human families. Esau could see that their mother was closer to Jacob; Jacob could see that their father was closer to Esau. In more mature families, parents make every child a favorite child, finding a unique relationship with each one. Not so for this bunch! The immaturity of past generations is passed down to the next with efficiency. Isaac, himself a focused-on first-born, perhaps felt a deep connection to the oldest son, who, after all, chose neither his position nor its obligations. Genesis recorded less about Rebekah; in my imagination I wonder who the red-headed offspring might have reminded her of, in her own family. But that's speculation. What's known is that Rebekah, far from her own family, was strongly connected to the son who stayed close instead of going hunting. As time went on, Rebekah taught Jacob about thinking things through – a capacity lacking in her pampered husband Isaac, and now her other son, Esau. When Esau traded his birthright for a bowl of stew, he is in effect saying that he is not interested in spending his life worrying about all that his birthright would bring to him.
In a democracy, freedom is a birthright. Knowing one's family, though, is the most basic birthright. A person's kin, the people one came from, are a part of oneself in ways that pass understanding. I saw this a few years ago at a funeral, attended by friends, colleagues, and family members from near and far. When it was all over, it was the family who were still there, together. Even family who had been distant for many years were welcomed into this inner circle. The instinctive capacity of the family to come together to bind its wounds was almost palpable.
When people in one generation quit talking to each other (spoiler alert! All does not go well for Jacob and Esau), the next generation loses the basic birthright of connection to extended family. Even when families are connected, descendants can lose track of the family's history, and their own place within that history. Often, the family history has spiritual themes, emerging in one place and then another, over time. All this can be lost, to the detriment of the family unit and each of its members.
When family members distance from each other, more than family history gets lost. In Matthew 13, a set of verses called the parable of the sower describe a reality Jesus must have seen a lot: people with good intentions who fall away. It's dangerous times so he's talking surreptitiously, about seeds that fall on rocky ground without much soil, which grow at first but are without deep enough roots to last in the heat of the day. As I see it, the seed thrown on rocky soil is the person without enough knowledge of – or connection to – her family to root herself in. The person who lacks understanding of her place in her family, how it shaped her, and how her family has faced challenges over time, has little chance to grow herself up. To take root, to grow a self that will last, one must do the hard work of preparing one's own soil, staying in relationship with others in the family while staying calm within oneself. On the way, a person becomes more able to hear the word and understand it, creating a chance to bear much fruit.
Morning: What parts of my family history do I know more about? How can I begin to learn more?
Evening: Where was my own reactivity most clear today?
Psalm 139:9-10 If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.