It doesn’t seem to me that I take the notion of blessing as seriously as I might. Perhaps it is growing up offering a “God bless you” for every sneeze around us, or perhaps it is simply that the physical sciences explain many of the natural phenomena that were so mysterious to our Biblical ancestors, but both blessings and curses too often seem to be “mere words” to many of us in our very secular, modern world. Today’s first reading poses a strong challenge to that unfaithful attitude!
Clearly the blessing – of long life, authority, abundance of material wealth and the ability to extend the special friendship of God to those you choose – was understood to be a real and central power in Israel’s history. Isaac had only one blessing of this kind to extend according to the Genesis account of today’s first reading. Obviously this blessing went forth from him as real power. It is this favor of God that is embedded in Jacob’s (later called Israel) descendants that Jesus inherits to the full and shares with us, his Body. In recognizing our blessings and our blessedness – that is, that we are favored by God, not over against others, perhaps, but simply and really blessed. The only legitimate response to such gratuity, it seems to me, is gratitude. Out of genuine gratitude we have the power – real authority of God – to bless others with God’s power by our prayers and our deeds.
To bless is to offer the power of God, life and love – and all that these gifts entail – to others. In Jesus, we can extend that power beyond the limits of blood relationship to the whole world, if we but will to do so. But we must make no mistake, offering to others the blessing of God is also an extension of ourselves in some mysterious way. In giving blessing we give of the real blessings we have received to seed and symbolize the greater gift behind our material offerings. A blessing is not a “mere” word – but an intention to do the Good for another. From Isaac the blessing to Jacob was the giving over of his own long and full life.
Jacob’s descendants, in telling the story of the blessing of Isaac that is stolen by Jacob from his older brother, are clearly describing how the election of God descended from Abraham to Isaac and then to Jacob – but not to Isaac’s half brother Ishmael (and his descendents) nor to Jacob’s brother Esau (and his descendents). With our sensibility about fairness this can strike us as unjust of God to allow human deceit to direct God’s blessing. But the story tellers are also at pains to show that God chooses to work within the choices of human persons, both virtuous and devious. It is a great mystery that God, who is perfectly gracious and merciful, seems to allow Divine power and authority to be dispensed by the unjust. But if that were not the case, how could any of us give God’s blessings to others? All of us are a mixture of goodness and wickedness. And the mystery is that God chooses us despite our vices, even our unbelief, to both receive and share the gift of Divine Blessings. For this we can sing the Response to today’s Psalm: “Praise the Lord for the Lord is good!”
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