July 19: Genesis 28:10-19a and Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24 • Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19 or Isaiah 44:6-8 and Psalm 86:11-17 • Romans 8:12-25 • Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
In last week's Genesis reading, Jacob and Esau were young men, still living at home, fighting over a birthright and a bowl of stew. In the next three chapters before today's reading, a lot happens. A famine causes the family to move several times. Esau marries two local Hittite women who make life unpleasant for Isaac and Rebekah. To top it off, Rebekah works with Jacob to trick Isaac, whose vision is failing him in his old age, into blessing Jacob instead of Esau. This is not a minor have-a-good-day type of blessing, but the inheritance blessing itself, conveying power to Jacob as the words were spoken.
Between the continued hostility with the Hittite in-laws, the increased antagonism between Esau and Jacob, and Isaac's frustration over losing the chance to bless his favorite son, tension within the family is growing. Rebekah once again takes matters into her own hands. Distancing, a common way of managing the stress in a relationship system, is put to use as she asks Isaac to send Jacob away, with the excuse that a wife from her branch of the family would be better than another Hittite daughter-in law. To be fair, perhaps Jacob's new position as the heir to the family fortune has made it important for him to find a wife from their own tribe. Instead of coming back with a bride though, Jacob himself would choose to distance for years and then decades. The family would be less without him.
As this week's scripture opens, Jacob is journeying to the household of Bethuel, Rebekah's father, to find a wife there. It's the first night of the trip, and Jacob has stopped at sunset, finding a rock to prop up his head while he sleeps. The scripture does not tell us what Jacob was thinking about that night. He was a young adult; this was his first night on this trip away from home; and he was completely on his own. There was going to be no mother to think for him, no brother to do the hunting, and no father to worry about. He was at that place where choices had been made, the past left behind, and the future not yet clear. It was dark, and there would be no going any further until morning.
That night, Jacob dreams a fabulous dream about angels going up and down a staircase to heaven, and God standing beside him. He has a vision of land, and children, and blessings. In the morning, he remembers his dream, setting stones up to remember the place where it happened.
It is a remarkable vision for a young man to have – and a more remarkable vision for a person of any age to believe in or seek to fulfill. It is one thing to dream dreams. It is another thing to work towards them. Stubbornly clinging to a vision – playing it over and over in one's own mind, working out each detail, modifying it as needed – yields fruit. It also brings mistakes – so many mistakes! – along the way. How else, though, does one learn and grow up? As the narrative will show, Jacob is already becoming aware of his own contribution to his family's problems. It seems to come as little surprise to him when another (spoiler alert!) is deceitful to him. Jacob seems to have a capacity, perhaps born out of his own family background, to keep trying in the midst of difficult circumstances.
If Jacob and Esau could have understood their family's story and their places in it, (maybe with an advance copy of Genesis ?!), it might have made a difference. Instead of arguing, they might have talked together about what each of them wanted in life, and how to make that happen. Maybe they have would have seen their parents with a more reality-based view, and along with that, found less need for parental approval and more freedom to be themselves within their relationships. This is the opportunity offered to anyone willing to explore their family roots. Instead, when distancing is over-used in managing the emotional field of the family, the results cascade down through the generations.
Morning: How can I reconnect with those I have distanced myself from?
Evening: How did I use distancing to manage myself today?
Psalm 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.