Free Resource: Stolen Blessings, Blessed by God (Cross+Gen Education)
Unit Theme (Sept. 10 – October 8): God Provides Blessings
Our first series of texts in the Year 4 Narrative Lectionary moves through the theme of “God Provides Blessings” in our Living the Word faith formation resources. Last week, we saw God blessing Abraham and Sarah with a baby in their old age, though God appears to test Abraham’s faith by commanding him to sacrifice this blessing. This week we move through the story of Abraham’s family to Isaac and his two sons, Esau and Jacob. Similar to last week, we have a lectionary reading that encompasses two stories, and both stories are somewhat disturbing (though this one not nearly as disturbing as the near-sacrifice of a child).
The first story in this reading is an account of the second time Jacob acted as a manipulative, scheming, deceitful brother, cheating Esau out of something important. First the birthright, now the blessing. Esau is the older twin, but Jacob gets the bounty of the eldest. Jacob is an ancient con artist, a trickster, supported and taught by his mother. This is definitely a dysfunctional family system, and some tough love and family therapy might be in order. However, even though Rebekah and Jacob’s behavior is scandalous, it’s also something we know. It’s human.
For me, the more scandalous part of Jacob’s story (at least as traditionally understood), is what comes next. This trickster and thief, on the run from his angry victim (i.e. brother), is visited by God and given a blessing. What is scandalous is the cause and effect relationship that we read into the story, and even our own lives. Jacob was bad, and so we would expect a visit from God to be a chastisement or punishment. He would deserve it. But, that’s not what happens. God does not chastise, but instead blesses. Is God rewarding deceit and theft? Of course not, we argue. That’s not the way God works. In this case, the relationship between the two is not cause and effect.
However, it’s not so simple. There may be no direct cause and effect relationship between the theft and the blessing, but this series of events was prophesied in Genesis 25:23. “The elder shall serve the younger.” The natural order of things is turned upside down, but it is not through God’s action that this happens, but through the greedy actions of the younger. And, God goes along with it. The blessing given to Abraham is transmitted to Jacob and therefore to his progeny.
These stories lift up one of the two “opposing” themes in Scripture. The first, seemingly subverted here, is that good is rewarded and bad is punished. The second, is God’s insistence on blessing flawed (even bad) people for God’s work of redeeming the whole, flawed (even bad) human race. Why does the blessing flow through the devious Jacob rather than the honest Esau? No idea. The story doesn’t tell us. But, this story does go to show us that God’s “grace is sufficient for you, for [God’s] power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
How can these stories be addressed for the formation of faith? The best thing would be to relate the story, and the character of Jacob, to our own lives. Very few of us have cheated a family member out of a birthright and blessing (I hope), but we all are guilty of something (many things). But, God still shows up and blesses us. We are recipients of God’s love, promise, and Spirit.
Also, we as faith formation leaders should challenge disciples to consider the question: how does God show up in our lives and in our world? We can give easy answers, but it might be better instead to start a conversation where everyone can wrestle with this. The possibilities are many, but I hope we all can agree that one place where God shows up is in the person and work of Jesus, our Messiah.
Thanks be to God!
-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
This week’s FREE resource is an intergenerational “Learning the Story” activity from our Living the Word: Cross+Generational Education product called “Stolen Blessings, Blessed by God,” where participants act out a “slideshow” of the story. This activity can be adapted for use with young kids and adults, or (even better) all the generations together in a classroom or even in the worship service! The Living the Word: Cross+Generational Education curriculum provides weekly lessons following the Narrative Lectionary that encourages the different generations to teach and learn from each other in a classroom or other flexible educational setting.