Today’s entry in the Jacob saga is a tale of reconciliation. If you have not been following the Jacob series with us, let me tell you a little about our patriarch-to-be. Jacob came out of the womb as the second born of twins- gripping the heel of his older brother Esau. The name Jacob, means, supplanter; trickster- and it wasn’t long before Jacob had tricked his brother out of his birthright and supplanted him as heir to the blessing of his father.
When last we saw Jacob, he had wrestled with God through the night- and come out of that struggle with two things- a blessing from God (which included a new identity)… and a limp.
In order to be free to be everything God has destined him to be in the future, and be the leader of a nation, he needs to reconcile his past and show that he is worthy of that leadership position. So for Jacob there is no other option; he needs to go home to the land of his father, and confront the brother he had swindled out of his birthright. .
That would be a scary idea for some of us; it’s much easier to walk toward the future (even with a limp) without regard to the past. But Jacob knows that unless he can reconcile (1) where he has come from, (2) the things he has done in the past, and (3) the people he has hurt, he will be running the rest of his life.
But as he travels toward home,his brother and four hundred warriors travel toward Jacob and his tribe.
Armed with that information, Jacob regroups; and prepares himself and his family for the meeting. He forms a parade formation with his family; lining them up in groups, and in a specific order. In front, he puts the two slave wives he had acquired over the years and their children. Next in line, he places his wife Leah with her children. And last, he places Rachel, the one dearest to his heart, with her son Joseph. And after everyone is lined up, Jacob, finally more concerned for others than for his own security, goes ahead of them all- to be able to greet Esau first.
And as he sees Esau approaching, Jacob bows to his brother, (signifying subservience). And then he bows again… and again… and again… and again, and again and again! He bows to Esau seven times; that's the number for greeting royalty!
Can you imagine being Esau, approaching this scene? You have been met along the way with presents of livestock, over and over, bearing a message, these are from Jacob… he is on his way… no matter how angry you are, after five separate times this happens… you have to be softened just a bit, or at the very least, curious.
And then as you get close enough, you see even more animals, herds of them! There are sheep bleating, and cows mooing, and camels spitting- and there are slaves and workers caring for them! And there are women... and little kids crying and and big kids poking at each other. And then you see that out in front of the whole parade is your brother… well, it looks like your brother, but he is so much older- and he’s bowing, and bowing. And wait, he is limping… he must have been through some things too… even looks a little like dad…
That's a lot to take in. And emotion sweeps over Esau, and he runs to Jacob and falls on top of him and kisses his neck... and they cry together… maybe over years lost, maybe over the past… maybe in the sheer joy of reconciliation.
And Jacob takes hold of the face of his brother in his hands and looks deep into Esau's eyes… and he sees Esau, perhaps for the first time, as a brother- not as something to be conquered, but as an equal, as a fellow human being. He sees the familiar yearning of someone who also needs to be accepted and loved. And in that moment- Jacob sees the face of God.
But there is more to do. Jacob helps his brother to his feet, and Esau, as if on cue, asks… “Who are all these people?”
And Jacob begin to introduce his twin to his family. But in the process, he demonstrates to his brother the man he has become; for this parade of people is also a summation of what Jacob has learned these past twenty years.
Taking an overall view of his possessions, Esau understand that Jacob has learned to prosper. His younger brother had left home with a blessing, yes… but materially, he had taken nothing but a staff. Jacob has now become the founder of a future a nation! People have also prospered under his leadership as evident by the health, wealth, and richness of the community standing before him.
Jacob escorts Esau to the front of the parade, and introduces him to his slave wives and their children. Through them, Esau understands that Jacob has learned to care for not just his possessions, but for those in his charge; he is able to provide for and protect even the least of these.
He moves next to Leah and her children. Leah was the wife Jacob was tricked into marrying. But he kept and cared for Leah all these years. She shows that Jacob has learned to become a man of his word; a man who finally has learned duty… one who has grown to understand and honor family values and customs, (and birthright).
And finally, Jacob shows Esau his heart of hearts, Rachel. And perhaps she is Jacob's most important lesson- Rachel shows that Jacob is now a man who has at last, learned to love. And his love has not been in vain- it has grown and multiplied. For standing next to Rachel is the fruit of that love; the apple of Jacob’s eye- a son, Joseph.
But why go through the process of showing all of this to Esau? It seemed as if he had already forgiven him- without the display.
I believe that Jacob knew that true reconciliation doesn’t stop at a hug, and a kiss, and saying things are “ok.” Jacob needed to show his brother the things he had come to learn because it was evidence of how he had changed. And that would mean that this reconciliation attempt was coming from a sincere and changed heart, and was not just another manipulation technique. He had changed a lot in the 20 years since Esau saw him last; no more tricks, no more running. Jacob was now a confident leader…with a limp.
But let’s talk about the limp… A limp can happen to a person in many ways, but once you are the owner of a limp, it tends to slow a person down a bit. A limp causes one’s pace to be altered; if you walk with a limp you generally lean to one side. And that means the way you see the world, because of that limp is changed… your perception of things is slanted… different. You are a little more cautious and a little less independent; you are reminded with every step of your vulnerability. And, the thing about a limp is, it’s with you wherever you go. I expect we all limp a little, don't we?
And you can try to pretend it doesn’t exist; but that only tends to slow you down further. When you refuse to acknowledge the things in your past that have brought you to this point; the things you have struggled with that have altered your perception... then your world becomes one of sidestepping, where you are always trying to make accommodations for that limp while attempting to hide it from others (and yourself)…
The limp, for Jacob, was a permanent representation, not just of the struggles he had been through, but also (because he embraced it) it was symbolic of how he had grown; his limp was a physical sign that announced his coming as loudly as theme music- it pointed to how he had changed. Further, it served as a reminder. The limp had come as a result, in part, of Jacob struggling to confess who he had been- it became part of his baggage, if you will. And he brought it with him even painfully, into his attempt to reconcile with his brother.
This is true for us as well. Our limp, regardless of what caused it, is a sign of our own vulnerability- and is a reminder of our own dependence on another. And like it or not, acknowledged or not, it can be as prominent and identifiable with us a theme song. Sometimes our limp can be so overt that people hear our music playing before we enter the room!
But admitting we have them is only step one. Step two is realizing that although we have them, and although they may slow us down, they do not stop us from moving forward toward reconciliation.
Yet at times, that’s exactly what we do. We say (or think) “I’ve been through so much, I have struggled with so much… look at me… I’m so damaged I can’t even walk straight… and besides… why should I put myself out to reconcile? After all… she hurt me too.” And we limp away like a wounded puppy with our tail between our legs and a bag of excuses under our arm.
But here’s the thing! God didn’t touch your hip socket and so that you could use your limp as a crutch. Your limp, whatever it is, is a sign of what you’ve overcome- it represents what God has built and is building in you!
The call on your life isn’t to worry about preserving and protecting what’s yours- it’s about prospering and propagating what is God’s! That you learn to grow and live out all the promises God has for you… and that begins and ends in community with each other. It’s just like Jacob’s parade- like the slave wives and the stuff: learning to live with each other, care for each other, and build each other up so the whole prospers- like Leah- we learn to honor and even value the customs and traditions of the other, and finally like Rachel, learning to love each other.
We are given a ministry of healing and reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:18) That’s it! That's our calling. It took Jacob took twenty years to figure that out- some of us take longer than that, and sadly some will never figure it out. But in the end, it’s what we are called to in the Kingdom of God.
If you have someone or something you need to reconcile with, it doesn’t matter who it is… don’t wait any longer. As long as there is something between you, you will never be really free to be all God has designed you to be. Come to grips with your limp- Take stock of where you’ve been, the hurts and struggles you’ve lived through- the pain you have felt and the pain that you may have caused others.
And then confidently start limping toward forgiveness. And as you reach the person you're looking for, hold their face in your hands, and look deep into their eyes... and don't you let go until you see the face of God!
And you have the capacity to do this, (even though it may seem impossible) because you have the Spirit of the living God inside you- the same God who loved you and I so much that he sent his son to earth- for one reason... to reconcile the whole word to himself and free us from the powers of sin and death- and do you know why? Not so that we could have some easy pathway to heaven, but so that we could learn to live in harmony with each other. So we could get along in community and help bring about Shalom on Earth.
Start limping toward forgiveness… and let the love of God speak through you and bring you to the freedom that awaits... you indeed have it all.