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The Jesse Tree: Jacob and Esau

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The Jesse Tree: Jacob and Esau

By Denise Trull

Is it wrong that I have always loved Esau, and Jacob not so much? I realize Jacob is a patriarch, and the chosen leader of God’s people. But somehow I think Esau deserves a place on that Jesse tree for one, simple, shining thing: his loving forgiveness.

Any kind of forgiveness is tricky and difficult, but a complete and loving forgiveness is rare, indeed. Esau shows us what that rarity looks like, and I don’t think Jacob ever saw Esau in the same light again after he experienced it.

Jacob found himself returning from Laban's house to his own land after a twenty year absence. He was, of course, quite nervous and well he should be. He had stolen Esau’s birthright and his father Isaac’s blessing long ago. Esau never even dreamed such a thing could be possible, for he was a kind and loving brother and son -- simple and straightforward. He had been duped by his own brother who was egged on by his mother’s scheming!

There is a deep sense of unworthiness when someone we trust lies to us or steals something precious from us. We wonder that they could think so little of us as to help themselves to our treasures without asking and then throw us away so lightly with no thought of our feelings. We feel worthless. There is much to forgive in such a theft and anger rises quite understandably to the surface. Jacob stole Esau’s peace that day -- an almost unforgivable crime. And then he ran! No apology. No remorse. No facing his brother in contrition. He ran away and left Esau to a world of hurt and sadness without even a backward glance.

But here Jacob was, at last facing the music. He played out many scenarios in his head. What if Esau ran him down? What if Esau killed his wife and children? It was entirely possible. Jacob wrestled once again, but with his own conscience and his real fear of not ever being forgiven. How little did he know his brother. Not once did he ever entertain the possibility that Esau would forgive him. But as he looks into the distance, he sees someone racing towards him. He braces himself, closes his eyes and waits for retribution. But only this: “Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.” I confess I too weep at these words every time I read them.

Jacob expected to be run down and destroyed by this brother he had betrayed so badly. Still incredulous, he immediately tries to offer him riches and goods to cool his expected anger. But Esau only sees his brother returned. He joyfully greets Jacob's wives and children with true wonder and loving interest with hugs all around. And then he quietly says these incredibly beautiful words, "I have enough my brother; keep what you have for yourself." Esau wanted nothing but Jacob returned.

Jacob is stunned and his heart breaks open with awe at this older brother. He cries out in true wonder, "...truly to see your face is to see the face of God, with such favor have you received me." Esau reveals to Jacob the face of God -- forgiveness and joy and kindness complete. Would that we all could show that face to each other.

This is why I think Esau is a finer man than most of the patriarchs in the Old Testament. He had no power. He lost his power and his honor by theft. But he gave Jacob, the thief, the gift of seeing the face of God looking back at him in loving human eyes. Perhaps he prefigured Christ at that very moment! Jacob would never be the same again.

And that is why I think this astounding forgiveness should be hanging in the shining lights of the Jesse Tree for all to see and ponder. Forgiveness is tricky. We all know how hard it can be. Esau shows us how beautiful it truly is and he gives us the courage to extend it to others that we too may be the face of God. Esau changed Jacob forever that day. Forgiveness will do that.

I think I might make Esau an ornament of his own...

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