A misfit in the family…?

          Family history is not really my thing.  In general, I know who’s who, and recognize names from my parents’ past, but I don’t delve too deeply into the stories that are beyond my living memory.  My father specializes in the more distant past; tracing the Lackies, Brocks, Coulters’ and the like, back to their arrival in Canada.  They are, for the most part, ordinary stories of farming and working, and marrying and burying – stories that every family can tell in abundance.  If there are any Isaacs or Jacobs in my past, they are well disguised.

          Our family stories may contain on or two ‘difficult cases’; black sheep, or misunderstood trailblazers – but most of the family history is concerned with self-improvement; stories of grand success.  So I know that my uncle  had a hard war, but on his return, he managed to overcome those challenges and rebuild his life.  I understand that my grandparent’s origins were shrouded in difficulty and still they managed to make things better for their children.  These are the stories we want to tell – stories that are easy, even fun to tell.  But our shared history – the history of our call to be God’s people – is filled with misfits and ne’er do wells.  Those stories we share only reluctantly.

          Abraham’s Grandson – the youngest of Isaac’s twin boys – is a special case.  From the moment of his birth, he shows himself to be a grasping, opportunistic, pain in the rear.  He ‘strives with his brother’ while in the womb.  He cooks up a lunch that cost his brother a birthright (though Esau was never going to win any prizes for integrity).  Jacob and his mother plot together to ensure Isaac’s dying blessing falls to the younger brother (to Isaac’s dismay and Esau’s rage)

          This is like many a family story that no one wants to tell – but it is central to the story of our faith.  Jacob, in his youth, is nothing but trouble.  He cheats his brother (twice), his father, his uncle – all in the name of self- preservation and self-promotion.  Even so, God is very real to him.  God’s presence breaks in to his dreams.  God grabs him and struggles with him and, in frustration wounds him.  This is not how it is supposed to be!  If God is a righteous judge, shouldn’t there be some sort of righteous judgement?  Instead, Jacob has become a respectable success, marked by God as the father of a nation – named by God as “one who struggles with God” (for that is what Isra-el means) – Jacob becomes the father of us all in the family of faith.

          It is something to consider in our current time – when our heroes are only heroes until we find their flaws.  Whether actors or athletes; politicians or parents (remember when we had political heroes???), the life-span of a hero these days can be in moments.  And when the fall comes, there is no return to grace; we search wildly for someone to fill the void, and start the cycle again. Heroes of the faith – these larger than life characters from Scripture – offer us something else.  They confirm our frailty.  We recognize in them a little of our own larceny, and then God steps into the story and uses these broken, beaten and badly motivated people for God’s own glory.  It’s never pretty.  It’s often confusing.  And when we see the depths to which God will sink to offer grace and peace to the fallen hero, we should be overcome with relief.  We are, in fact, saved by this particular impulse of God.

          Our ambitions are seldom realized.  We are less than perfect specimens, guided by a tradition of faith that has had its share of difficult moments.  God’s people have weathered every storm that our obstinate, devious minds have created.  And God continues to meet us where we are.  God’s gift to us in Christ was not to make us into perfectly manageable creatures of heaven; the gift is that God sees our wounded-ness, and accepts it – blesses it – renames it for God’s own reason and purpose.

          So Jacob, limping toward his homecoming, is not just humbled by his contest with God, he is prevented from running away from reunion with his brother – and that is good news.  And our imperfections vanish when viewed in the shadow of the cross – and that is good news.       The family stories that are hardest to tell often make the most lasting impression.  It is a point in our favour, that the Scriptures portray such a motley crew of imperfect souls as the bedrock layer in a long history of faithful witness.  Perhaps someday, our children’s children will be able to say the same of us.



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