July 26: Genesis 29:15-28 and Psalm 105:1-11, 45b or Psalm 128 • 1 Kings 3:5-12 and Psalm 119:129-136 • Romans 8:26-39 • Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Today's Genesis reading reminds me of the expression turn about is fair play, or even better, two can play that game. Laban lies to Jacob – essentially tricking him into marrying not Rachel, whom he had bargained and worked seven years for, but instead her older sister, Leah. Talk about getting his comeuppance for the tricks he'd pulled on his brother and father! Now he must bargain for Rachel's hand a second time, marrying her a week later in return for seven more years of working for Laban. In practice, the bargain may have made little difference to Jacob, who was at that point not prepared to leave Laban's household. As the story unfolds in the next chapters, Jacob carries out an elaborate plan to outwit Laban so that he, Jacob, may acquire considerable wealth before going.
In a sense, you have to admire Jacob. He was a hard-worker, willing to put his energy into getting what he wanted. He was patient, too, willing to take whatever time was needed to marry his favorite and to build his fortune. The trouble with him was the lying, the deception, the trickery that went with him. It is as though he is afraid to be himself.
Another person afraid to be herself in this story is Leah – the older sister, the less attractive, the one who was always envying her younger sister Rachel. What was it like for her, to participate with her father in deceiving Jacob? How much of her life had been spent in focusing on her younger sister and how to outwit her, rather than in a focus on her own self and what she could do with her life?
Leah's story unfolds in the next pages with her giving her sons names that would be sure to grate on the (so far infertile) Rachel's nerves – naming the first one Reuben, meaning See, a son. Jacob, for his part, gets busy with breeding the sheep so that his own flocks get stronger while Laban's get weaker. For Leah, seeing her sister as the favored one, the one she had to beat somehow, was a lifelong pattern keeping her from discovering within herself the person she might become. For Jacob, seeing Laban as the latest person to be deceived in order to get his way was a lifelong pattern keeping him from discovering within himself the person he might become. For both Leah and Jacob, these old patterns kept them from becoming their authentic selves.
In the Matthew reading, Jesus seems to be talking about just this dilemma in the story of the trader looking for fine pearls. Picture the trader, picking up each pearl, examining it carefully and seeing its beauty. Reading scripture is itself a way of looking for fine pearls – a way of searching for what matters. In the gospel story, the trader saw what he was looking for and gave up everything else for it: all in one sweeping moment. In life, though, it's a constant challenge. Working to discover and express one's best, authentic, genuine self is an ongoing effort. On a daily basis, the process involves both finding and using that most mature self to connect with others and then letting the rest go.
Facing one's own self-deceit is part of the process of choosing the pearl of great price. An awareness of one's own complicity in one's problems, for example, rather than the blaming of others, is part of being honest. A knowledge of the bigger picture of what is actually happening, rather than staying so distant from others that one lacks the facts, is part of being responsible to others. An understanding of how one's own actions are impacting others, rather than a sole focus on one's own course, is part of being aware – a part of stopping the self-deceit. In the end, there is a lot to be said for staying grounded in reality.
Morning: What is my contribution to the problems I will face today?
Evening: Where did I distance today? When did I lose sight of the bigger picture?
Psalm 105:3b Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.