Psalm 135:1-2, 3-4,
The Psalms remind us today that God is good. Blessed are
those who stand in the house of the Lord! But wait, what's this verse
about God chosing Jacob for his own? We just read a story in which
he's a conniving cheat! The bible is chock full of stories in which
God chooses and blesses people who would be the least likely to be chosen
as deserving by us. God chooses Jacob instead of the strong, first-born
Esau. God sends his Son through a lowly family from Nazareth (can anything
good come from Nazareth, Andrew asks?) Jesus confirms this truth about
God. He tells stories in which blessings come to runaway sons and Samaritans
and he preaches that blessed are the poor, the meek, and the mourning.
The antagonists in so many of His stories are exactly who we would have chosen
as the protagonists.
What are we to make of this? I can imagine this recurring theme in
the bible to be of great comfort to those who easily see themselves as the
runaway son or the conniving Jacob. They can rest assured that God
is merciful and faithful, never giving up on people even when all others
do. What if we are more likely to see ourselves as John's fasting disciples
or hard working and deserving Esau? Jesus challenges us to see things
as God sees them, which requires an entirely new way of seeing. We
cannot just put a Christian patch on our old cloak. This won't repair
our seeing, but will just make the tear worse, perhaps causing us to see
as the self-righteous antagonists do in so many bible stories.
Notice that Jesus doesn't preach against fasting, but teaches that fasting
should be put in its place. The rest of the story of Jacob shows that
despite his blessing, he did not escape negative consequences of his choices.
God doesn't desire gluttony, cheating and running away. Through Paul
we learn that God gives us a spirit of strength and self-control. However,
discipline and good choices need to be seen in an entirely new way.
If we do the good that Jesus teaches with a focus on worthiness (what we
deserve, what others deserve), then we're pouring the wonderful wine of Christ's
wisdom into old wineskins and the abundant life that could come from this
wisdom will run out and be ruined. Instead we need to seek to see as
God sees. One good reflection exercise for this seeking occurs in the
verses of Matthew right before the passage for today. Jesus says "Go
and learn what this means. I desire mercy, not sacrifice." Does
this help us understand why God chooses Jacob in the end? Do we value
mercy more than sacrifice? Does this message fit into our wineskins
or do we need the grace of new ones?