Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Compassionate Brother (part 16)

With the gifts of a substantial number of animals, the words of the messengers, the bowing before Esau, and the repeated use of “servant” and “lord,” that plan could be seen unfolding.  However, it was also seen that Esau felt these things to have been completely unnecessary, as he runs to his brother, welcoming him with open arms and demonstrating compassion in his words and actions.  Basically, though Esau will begrudgingly accept the gifts that are on offer from his brother, Jacob’s well-rehearsed plan is dismissed out of hand, as Esau counters Jacob’s attempt to attract shame to himself in order to elevate his aggrieved brother. 

In stark contrast and as something of a reversal, Esau’s own actions bring shame upon himself, as he runs to his brother and refrains from taking action to avenge the dishonor done to him many years prior.  Whereas Jacob expected conflict, Esau appeared to be in favor of celebration.  Though Jacob had been dead to him, and though part of the plot was the thought that Esau had wanted him dead, it was now as if Jacob had returned to life.      

Though it has taken some work to get to this point, this story of the compassionate brother sounds remarkably similar to a story that would eventually be offered up by Jesus.  Though Esau generally gets a bad rap, and though there is precious little positive talk of Esau in Scriptures, perhaps the man who regularly dined with tax collectors and sinners, who offered up stories commending “unjust” stewards and good Samaritans, and generally opened up the kingdom of God to what were considered to be all the wrong people, had the story of Esau as the compassionate brother in mind when He offered up the parable of the compassionate father (often incorrectly labeled as the parable of the prodigal son). 

In that story, Jesus tells about a man with two sons.  The younger of the two demanded that his father give him the assets that would eventually come to him upon his father’s death.  This is the equivalent of wishing his father dead, which would have been well understood by those that would hear this tale from the lips of Jesus.  The father, who would be immensely dishonored by this action (the family would also suffer dishonor in the community), accedes to his son’s wishes. 

Though this is not precisely what happened with Isaac and his two sons, Isaac insisted on blessing Esau (the older son), indicating that he wanted to do so before he died.  However, rather than Esau receiving the blessing as the firstborn, the blessing fell to Jacob.  In the parable, as it is presented by Jesus, the son dishonored his father by his request, just as Jacob dishonored his father.  In both cases, the father has every right to take vengeance on his son, but he restrains himself.  There is compassion in evidence. 

In the parable, reports of the actions of the son would have quickly spread through the community, creating a growing hostility towards this presumptuous and shameful son.  It is not unreasonable to suggest that his life would have possibly been in jeopardy (as was Jacob’s), so it is quite likely that he quickly sells the assets in order to gain liquidity and leaves.  As did Jacob, with possible death looming, the son leaves on a journey to a distant country.  Jesus informs His hearers that the son “squandered his wealth with a wild lifestyle” (Luke 15:13b).  

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