This week as I read these passages, studied and searched for God’s word, I came to see that one of the greatest challenges we face in this world is to live a life of love which is to live a life of forgiveness because love bridges all pains and kills all hate. In life, love can be hard to put first. I think the best example of this struggle comes with the relationship of siblings. Those of you who have siblings may understand this fully and completely. Sometimes the arguments and the words that we throw at one another leave their marks and make it difficult to love never mind forgive the other person. My brothers and I were not always nice or kind to one another. Sometimes we were downright brutal to one another as we grew up especially in those awkward years of life. No one knows how to tease and hurt you quite like a sibling.
As young children, my brother Jason, the one closest in age to me, and I were very competitive. We would compete over who was smarter than the other one, who was more artistic, who was better at baking and cooking, who had a better memory, who was better at math. The list could just go on and on. It seemed endless. We would even compete in sledding, snowball making, and running. Jason was better at art and math. I was better at cooking and baking and snowball accrual. I would sneak around the other side and steal them from him as fast as he could make them.
Inevitably, to my mother’s chagrin, the competition didn’t end well. It always ended in yelling, screaming, and with us attacking one another. My eldest brother somehow always ended up in the middle tearing us apart. He was always more even headed than Jason and I. Jason and I were always very similar in personality and as my brother can attest to, I somehow knew instinctively all his buttons and could manage to push them all in lighting speed. I like to call it the little sister superpower. It took years before Jason and I were able to spend time together one on one without it boiling down into hurt words and annoyances.
Sometimes our own family members are the ones we fight with the most. They are the ones we struggle to show love and compassion to the most. These instances can also be the ones that hurt us the deepest leaving their unsightly scars making them the hardest to forgive. I see this competition in families and not just among battling children. But sometimes we see this competition and strained relationships among adult children, husbands and wives, parents and children. When this dynamic exists in families it also exists in all human institutions: in governments, politics, religion, towns and in church communities too.
Sometimes we forget to put love first. Sometimes we feel that the offense suffered is so intense or grievous that we can’t put into action the love of Christ as a way to begin the healing process. Sometimes we just get caught up in our emotions and we don’t take the time to sit down and think about what has happened trying to work through it.
Today we heard about Jacob and Esau. Jacob and Esau were twins. Esau the elder of the two was favored by Isaac because of his strength and brawn. Jacob was favored by his mother, Rebecca. We know that the two were always at odds and that Jacob cheated Esau out of his birth right and blessing from Isaac. Now today we might think that this is just a trivial offense. But in the ancient world amongst the Semitic tribes to be the one with the birthright and the blessing meant that you became the leader of that particular tribe and got the choicest lands. The younger siblings were sent off on their own to start new tribes and to seek lands somewhere else. I would imagine that no one wanted to be in that position because it meant a harder way of life. So Esau, realizing what had happened sought to kill his brother and began plotting.
So Rebecca sent Jacob away to her family which many historians believe to be based somewhere in modern day Iraq or Iran. There he would be out of reach of the wrath of his older brother. But we see at a certain point Jacob brought his family, or growing tribe, back to the land of his father and thus back into the territory of his older brother Esau. We still can hear and see the nerves of Jacob as he presents his brother with gifts to try and appease his brother’s potential wrath.
The actions of Jacob in his youth were so grievous that Esau could have held onto that anger and could have killed his brother in those moments as he had spent many a hour planning in the days of his youth. They fought as children and made some very poor decisions that lead to many years, even decades, where the family was torn apart. This is no different than many families today. This is no different than when communities are torn apart today by power struggles. But we see something interesting in today’s scripture. We don’t see retaliation. We don’t see revenge.
Esau lived the life of forgiveness. He actively chose to do something else than to attack and kill his brother and his brother’s family, which would not have been uncommon for that time in history. Instead, Esau embraced his brother in acceptance and love. In Jacob’s absence Esau was able to grapple with his own emotions and what that hate did to further the tearing apart of his relationship with his brother. He dealt with his own culpability in the tearing apart of his family. He decided to reunite with people he hadn’t seen in years and to meet family he hadn’t been given the chance to know. Once we get to that point when we can leave the past as a chapter of history then we can allow for our actions of love and fellowship to show people that we have grown, changed and are ready for a new future.
Remember what Jesus said of the woman who had anointed his feet with oil, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven”. Jesus taught that if we can place love first then the sins or transgressions of the past can be healed and our relationship with God can be healed as well. For where there are broken relationships, where there is ill intent then we cannot see nor feel God’s presence. Where there is love, there is potential for a great tomorrow. So we are being called to live the life of love. Love for our fellow human beings whether they’ve earned that love or not because God has loved us faults and all. Esau loved Jacob first even though he had done nothing to deserve it. Love is what heals the heart and mends all brokenness. Love is a decision that we each can make with each day. We saw it with the shootings in Charleston. If those church members can place love first and forgive the hate of that young man than we too can choose to put Christ’s love first in our lives.
 Luke 7: 47-48, RSV.
(Based on Genesis 33: 1-17 and Luke 7: 39-50)