Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau, instructing them, "Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: 'Thus says your servant Jacob, I have lived with Laban as an alien, and stayed until now, and I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male and female slaves, and I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight.'"
Jacob is on his way to meet Esau, the brother he has struggled with, competed against, and ultimately stolen the birthright from. He comes, not with hat in hand, but loaded down with gifts designed to impress Esau and also to serve as a peace offering. His words are conciliatory but also reinforced with abundant worldly goods.
With the emphasis on gift-giving in our culture, this text gets my attention. How often do I go overboard with gifts to compensate for a lack of other things—like being fully present to my friends and family, or speaking from my heart about how thankful and grateful I am for their presence in my life?
I love selecting specific presents for friends and family members, and they seem to appreciate them. But reading this Genesis passage, I was struck by how those gifts Jacob prepared for Esau seemed like substitutes for the truth: "I have done a terrible wrong to you. I am afraid you will not forgive me. I don’t know how to convince you I have changed except by giving elaborate, extravagant presents."
The story makes a dramatic swerve as Jacob nears his meeting time with Esau. Instead of dithering over the gifts, Jacob finally faces his fear and inadequacy and offers a stunningly honest prayer: "O Lord, I am not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant…Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, for I am afraid of him.” (Genesis 32: 9-11)
Humility and honesty are the most valuable gifts we can give, first to ourselves, and then to others. Those qualities pave the way for reconciliation and healing far better than brightly wrapped packages.
Jacob comes bearing gifts, but Esau gives his brother the greatest gift of all: After welcoming him with embraces, Esau said, "I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself." (Genesis 33:11).
Open our hearts, O Lord, to your grace and truth. Amen.
Copyright © 2010 Margaret Jones.