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Saint John's Pulpit (July 12, Eighth Sunday after Pentecost) –
Then Laban said to Jacob, "Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?" Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah's eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, "I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel." Laban said, "It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me." So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.
Then Jacob said to Laban, "Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed." So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, "What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?" Laban said, "This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years." Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.
Here is my thought about Jacob and his life. When you read a story of Jacob from the Book of Genesis, you find that his life is closely related with his taking a birthright. Indeed, the birthright was for his brother Esau. But we know that Jacob deceived his twin brother Esau and took it. To our eyes, it is wrong. Our common sense is that a wrong process cannot be justified by a good outcome. If so, a question should be raised. Why did Jacob not regret what he did in taking a birthright from Esau inappropriately? A careful reading of his story makes you easily see no regret in Jacob’s life. Yes, oblivion! Before reflecting on his fault, Jacob easily forgot about it. Maybe he is counting on the moment when he would be blessed as an elder son of Isaac.
Even though Jacob had to become a fugitive, he was too numb to realize what was wrong. In that sense, the story today is very important to shape Jacob’s life. Simply speaking, it was a lesson learned with bitterness. While no one blamed on Jacob’s wrongdoing, there was a moment that Jacob was deceived by someone just as he did it for his brother Esau. Ironically, it was at his wedding! Can we call it Jacob’s boomerang?
Right after a special blessing prayer by his father Isaac, Jacob had to leave his home and went to his uncle Laban’s house. To make a living, Jacob worked for his uncle Laban. However, Laban offered Jacob a labor contract as Jacob was going to work for a while. At that time, Jacob fell in love with Rachel, Laban’s younger daughter. Jacob asked Laban for Rachel as his wife. In the ancient near East it was customary for a prospective husband to give the bride’s father a substantial gift of money, known as the 'bride-price'. As Jacob had no money in his pocket, he offered his labor in order to give the equivalent of seven year’s wages for Rachel. Until now, it sounds common- sensical.
However, a non-sensical offer was followed. After working seven years for Laban, Jacob's wedding day finally came. Being full of a rosy dream and sweet honeymoon, Jacob married Rachel. His wedding lasted for seven days. However, the bride whom he married was not Rachel, but Leah! Was it accidental or intentional? What was Laban’s response to this bitter happening?
When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” 26 Laban said, “This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. Genesis 29:25-26 NRSV
What is Jacob hearing now? "This is not done in our country – giving the younger before the firstborn…" Don’t you think that Laban's remark is very familiar? Having deceived his father by pretending to be the firstborn, Jacob himself is now deceived by his uncle Laban into marrying his firstborn daughter, Leah. Simply speaking, Jacob is being treated by the same way of his treating others! Yes, Jacob is hit by his boomerang!
Before this moment, all wrongdoings made by Jacob seemed to be forgotten. Jacob forgot it. So did his family. But God didn’t do it. God knew what Jacob really needed in his life. When no one brought up this uneasy issue, but God did it for Jacob. Just as he deceived, Jacob is deceived in his best moment!
Abandoned birthright and Abused birthright
Here is an ultimate question. What is a birthright? Is it a really good privilege? Is it something good to pursue? You may remember the last scene in the movie Kingdom of Heaven (Dir. Ridley Scott). When Jerusalem was surrendered by the Muslim, Balian gave this question to Saladin (or Salahuddin).
"What is Jerusalem worth?"
Saladin answered, "Nothing… everything!"
If so, we need to ask this question, what is a birthright worth?
All stories about Jacob are closely connected with taking a birthright in his life. It looks great and wonderful. However, it is being challenged by the Bible seriously. In Jacob’s life, two elder people had to be sacrificed. Esau lost his birthright cause of his oversight. We can call his case an abandoned birthright. What about Leah. Laban’s oldest daughter? She had to marry Jacob, but Jacob was not her choice. It was her father’s choice because Leah was the oldest one. This case is called an abused birthright. They lost their rights but did not lose God. God was with them and took care of them. God does not care whether we have a birthright or not. God’s salvation is given to all. Unfortunately, this sense of privilege (superiority) has been an ongoing issue in a history of Christianity and even in a world history. In the eyes of God, we all are the same, and are ones who need His Grace. Here is a reason why we need to hear from Apostle Paul:
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."" Romans 10:12-13 NRSV
It is not a matter of calling older or younger, but a matter of calling the name of the Lord! After all, our great birthright is calling the name of the Lord! We are all His children. Amen.