The act of Esau giving up his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup is ridiculous, impulsive, and just plain stupid. No one would give up their birthright, their inheritance, for a bowl of soup no matter how hungry they might be. It doesn’t make sense and is not something any sane person I know would ever do. I mean, we do give up our health for French fries or chocolate. We give up our wealth for impulse purchases. We give up our dignity to be part of the in crowd. We give up our beliefs because they are just too hard to maintain. We give up our focus and determination because we are easily distracted. But we’re not going to give up our inheritance over a bowl of soup.
Esau seems a bit of the tragic figure in this story—tricked by his brother Jacob and seemingly indifferent to the consequences of his rash behavior. Jacob appears a wily character; the epitome of the trickster motif. Esau does despise his birthright, but Jacob seems to have always possessed the favor of the Lord. He might be a trickster—but it is his drive to find favor with his father and ultimately the Lord in securing a blessing that motivates him. Jacob will not only trick his brother, he tricks his father, and eventually even his father-in-law. Jacob is a wheeler-dealer. His ultimate goal is Yahweh’s blessing. He doesn’t allow little things like lentil soup distract him. He keeps his focus on YHWH and does whatever he must to achieve favor.
Jacob’s mind is set on the things of the spirit whereas Esau’s mind is set on the things of the flesh; as Paul says in his letter to the Romans. Its more than simply being a quiet man living in tents versus a skillful hunter and man of the field; their differences in focus and what is important to them are established in the lentil soup event. Jacob is not going to be distracted by a quick fix or impulsive move to meet an immediate need—that is a reflection of earthly living and Esau’s downfall. Jacob understands that a life in God is more long term—it will probably come with some suffering but the avoidance of that suffering may cause one to lose their birthright.
Jesus offers a different perspective of the same ideology when it comes to being a Christian, though instead of a story of suffering because one is hungry, he tells a parable about growth, about a sower and his seeds. He explains the parable in allegorical terms to his disciples—parables are not always allegories unless they are, and Jesus makes it pretty clear this one is. The sower is the word of God, the Good News, and it is scattered wildly and everywhere—almost haphazardly. We are the seed. The various locations the seed lands represent that which is important to us in life—that which motivates our desires and decision making. The birds represent the evil one and will eat up or “snatch away” that which is sown in the heart—seeds that fall on the path but haven’t had the fertile soil to take root like potential Christians or even newcomers to a church who haven’t found welcome or opportunity for engagement in substantiate ways. The rocky ground represents those who are always looking for the next best thing—as long as they gain something or find pleasure in whatever they are doing their fine, but at the first sign of struggle or discomfort or trouble they are out. They lack the desire or the discipline to be rooted in anything that might cause distress or hard work. The thorns represent the distractions and temptations that lead us down misguided paths away from the Lord. And then, there is the good soil, the fertile soil of one who receives the word and because their life, their choices and their relationships are grounded in God, they provide witness to God’s presence in their lives and in this world and find their birthright to be the kingdom of God.
Esau had his lentil soup—we have our French fries and impulse buys, our desire for acceptance and an “easy” life. For Jesus these are the things which cause the seed to not be fruitful and yield that which nourishes faith. Almost a year ago, we as a church participated in a study to measure our common spirituality—Renewal Works. The joy was that the results of that study reflected that a little more than a third of our members demonstrate a better than average spiritual health and life centered on God. This group is hungry for more than lentil soup, for more than matters of the flesh—their minds are set on the spirit. They are considered “Deepening” or “Centered” Christians. 51% of our congregation is considered “Growing” and 13% of our congregation is considered “Exploring” Christians. The challenge is that though more than a third of us desire more spiritual growth, 2/3rds of us are simply satisfied with a somewhat stagnate spiritual life. That group runs the risk of Esau—trading in their birthright as heirs of the kingdom for more immediate satisfactions like entertainment or money or social acceptance. When the going gets tough or the commitment seems to much, or if something better comes along, they bail.
Edward VIII did that—Queen Elizabeth’s uncle. He abdicated the crown for his passion. He may have gotten to marry the love of his life but the cost was his family, his country, and his purpose. If we are going to give up our birthright, we might want to consider the cost. If we are indifferent to our purpose, satisfied with our spirituality and not desirous of growth, and half-hearted in our commitments, we too give up our birthright as children of God. The seed is not sown in fertile soil. And all we have to show for it is an empty bowl that once contained a little soup. That doesn’t mean we are going to hell but it does mean that we are missing out on kingdom living on the here and now. Amen.
Pentecost 6A: Genesis 25:19-34; Psalm 119: 105-112; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Montgomery, AL
Sunday, July 12, 2020
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer