GENESIS 32:13-34:31 | MATTHEW 11:7-30 | PSALM 14:1-7 | PROVERBS 3:19-20
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It is the age-old formula that Jacob adopts when it is time to meet his brother, Esau: he goes to him bearing gifts. This is the same twin-brother that unfortunately sold his birthright to Jacob for a price of a bowl of stew, but regretted it immediately afterwards, and things had never been the same again.
Jacob fled to his uncle’s house, and twenty years later, he decides to come home, but is wise to use caution in approaching Esau for fear that his brother’s anger has not subsided. And so Jacob sends his men ahead of him laden with gifts as a peace-offering.
He says: “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.”
Esau, surprisingly is no longer bearing Jacob any ill-will and says to him: “I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.” It might be pride speaking or it might simply have been contentment without rancor.
But before all this, there is the fascinating account of Jacob wrestling with God, and not giving up or letting go until he gets what he wants: a blessing. Is that tenacity or what?! And this is the place and moment where Jacob is given the name that the Jewish people are now known by: Israel.
Which means “He struggles with God.” God says to him: “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”
The story of Dinah and the Schechemites is a small dot on the long line of the history of the Jewish people, but one that must be important because it has been recorded. In essence it is the story of a people being insulted, taking action to counter this, laying out a plan of compromise, committing a breach of promise, and then having nothing to show for it.
And such is many a story of our lives. Would that we might pause to contemplate the meaning of our words and actions in recognizing the value of giving one’s word and staying true to it.
Turning now to our reading in the Book of Matthew, we continue with the account of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus speaks highly of John the Baptist, confirming him to be the one who prepared the way for him. And he also speaks with regret about the chance that many others have thrown away in accepting the gospel of repentance and salvation that has been preached to them.
Woe is unto them, Jesus says. In spite of the many miracles that have been performed, the people have not had a change of heart and have not been able to understand that this is the long-awaited Messiah that John the Baptist had been telling them about, not to mention that many prophecies from several hundred years old that the people have known of and have been preached to in the Temple. Alas, they will not believe, and Jesus says woe is to them!
But yet again, Jesus says to those who will listen– and this is one of the oft-quoted verses of Jesus: 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Many hundreds of years before Jesus utters these words, David, king of Israel is praying for that very essence of hope to come to his people. He says, in the Psalm for today:
7 Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people,
let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!
Finally, Solomon’s words from the Book of Proverbs for today:
19 By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations,
by understanding he set the heavens in place;
20 by his knowledge the watery depths were divided,
and the clouds let drop the dew.
May God bless the reading and reflection of His Word. Amen.