The readings from the Common Testament for Morning Prayer have come from Genesis in recent days. I have been reading the story of Jacob. At the instigation of his mother, Jacob receives the blessing of Isaac, his blind and frail Father, instead of his older brother Esau.
The story is complicated. The first part of the story happens when Esau, the hunter, comes home with no catch, but is hungry. Jacob, the home-body and cook says to him ‘Sell me your birth-right as the elder twin, and I will feed you.’ What an offer. Anyway, Esau does it. Then Rebeccah and Jacob work out a way of making Jacob feel and smell like Esau, so that when it comes time for the blessing of his father, Isaac actually thinks that he is blessing the elder one, Esau.
Esau finds this out and is distraught. He says ‘Bless me too father!!!’ But the blessing has already been given. Jacob has been made lord over his brothers, and the wish of the father for prosperity has been given to Jacob. It cannot be rescinded.
Now a scholarly reading of this story goes like this: The great saga, of which this story is a part describes how the blessing of God, promised to Abraham is made effective through the birth of Isaac, then the twelve sons of Jacob (Israel), and on through the Exodus.
The crucial thing is that one receive the blessing of God.
The problem with Esau is that he did not have his values sorted out. Twice, as he says, his distorted values mean that Jacob, who knows he value of the blessing, does what is necessary to receive a blessing, while Esau, misses out.
The whole story focuses on the way in which putting one’s relationship with God, and god’s blessing is the most important thing. Everything else must take its place in relationship to that.
I am reminded of the later text, which Esau did not understand ‘You shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of god.’ It is connection with God, which is truly nourishing.
I remember a couple of stories from my earlier days that illustrate this for me. Before I understood my vocation as a priest, I would ‘put out’ as it were that I as a troubled, searching soul with its of questions. People would ask me in response ‘Well what do you want to do?”
I used to reply “I think the main question is ‘Who do I want to be!! And The Bible says ’seek first the reign of god and god’s righteousness and everything else will be added to you.“
In that context I identified with Jacob and his wanting the blessing above all things.
At another time I began attending an Anglican Church. I saw the priest giving a solemn blessing to some people at the Eucharist. I asked him ‘I would like one of those blessings”
He said “Yes, but you get a better one in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, to which you are entitled.” “Yes, “ I said, “But I want a blessing”. It was great to receive this.
I have felt like Esau: missing out. When I read the story I began to cry because I understand the remorse that comes when I see that something that I could have had, is not mine because of mistakes that I have made. “Bless me too father!” Instead I have had to suffer the consequences of my actions. I have not been blessed, but like Esau I have wandered around the fringes of the things that I hold most dear.
It is for the sake of understanding the power to bless that I take this office of a priest very seriously.
During the Eucharist people often bring younger people for a blessing. It is a wonderful thing to be able to say ‘The blessing of God, Almighty be upon you and remain with you.”. At this point I do not agree with some priests who wave their hands in a general fashion over a young person and say ‘The Lord Jesus bless you.’ What I am not doing is ‘something nice’. Like the blessing of Isaac on Jacob there is something powerful about words of blessing which when delivered solemnly are effective words. There is nothing that ought to be taken more seriously in the Church than being blessed, or being given the right to pronounce a blessing.
This happens too at the end of church. It is one of the most enjoyable moments of being a priest to be able to say ‘…and the blessing of god almighty, Father, son and holy Spirit be among you and remain with you always.”
We do this too when people go on holidays, or are preparing for surgery or in fact for any reason that needs it.
Christians then live in the world like Jacob: as people who are continually blessed.
We do not live like Esau who has not understood the value of being blessed and who must go about the world in a state of perpetual lack. How good.