Listening in the Center

The family of Isaac and Rebecca make most of our families look good.   The scripture tells us,  *When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents.  Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.” Genesis 25:27-28    From the time their twin sons Esau and Jacob were young, both mother and father had a favorite.  Not just one that was somewhat favored, but one they loved at the expense of the other. Isaac loved Esau and Rebecca loved Jacob. In their love for their favorite son, they walked over the needs of the other. The boys must have competed for their parents attention. Were it not for the overt favoritism, the sons might have grown to love and appreciate each other. As it was, there was always an undercurrent with one parent giving his or her favorite son an advantage over the other.

There comes a point when Isaac decides it is time to pass on a blessing to his son Esau. The blessing was considered so powerful that any words spoken would come true. Now with his eyes dimmed, he relies on touch, scent and hearing. Not wanting her own favorite to be left out of the blessings, Rebecca helps Jacob scheme to trick Isaac into giving the blessing to him. Were Isaac a kinder father, he would have saved some words of blessing for his other son. In his determination to bless Esau, Isaac plans nothing for Jacob.  As Isaac and Esau discover the deceit, Esau begs for a blessing, but there is little left for him. The pain of this dysfunction grows and Esau threatens Jacob’s life. Their inability to love both sons, breaks the family. Jacob leaves in fear. Rebecca will never see him again.

The danger in our divided world is that we will stop talking to each other. The peril is that we will no longer listen for the truth in the other’s understanding of the world. It is difficult to hold to the center and create space to hear both sides of an argument. Friends on both right and left encourage us to lean into their positions. The world needs people who are willing to listen and to understand another person’s values and ideas.

A question in my daily devotions some months back asked, “When you sit at the table of Christ, do you think you will be surprised by those who are gathered at the table with you?” I have a feeling the table will be wider and vividly different, with people I’ve discounted or disparaged through the years, sitting at the head. There will be people who I have had strong philosophical and theological arguments greeting me with joy. I will be surprised by the grace of it all.

For Esau and Jacob there is a day of putting the dysfunction behind. Upon Jacob’s return he finds his brother welcomes him home. Years apart have taught both brothers something of the value of family and loving one another.

* The story of Jacob and Esau is found in Genesis 25:19-33, Chapters 27 through  33.