Tricksters

Rensig, Everhard - Esau Gives up his Birthright; Jacob and Esau with the Bowl of Pottage - Google Art Project

By Rensig, Everhard (maker, Details of artist on Google Art Project) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By The Rev’d Curtis Farr

Proper 10

What do you do if you don’t hold the power in a given situation. If you’re on the receiving end of oppression, bullying, or anything in between, how do you respond in a way that is neither passive nor brutally forceful?

Trickery is at least one option, and it is trickery that seems to ultimately be valued in many stories in the Bible, including the one about brothers Jacob and Esau that we read this week.

Abraham’s grandchildren (Isaac’s boys) Jacob and Esau are twins. In their mother Rebekah’s womb, the two struggled together. Esau came out first, red and covered in hair. Jacob came out second, gripping his brother’s heel. As they grew, Esau became a skillful hunter, and his father loved him for it. Jacob was the quieter one with a bit of trickster in his blood (he got it from his mother).

After a long day of work, Esau came in to find Jacob cooking some chili. He must have been starving because when Jacob offered him chili for his inheritance, Esau accepted.

You probably know the rest of the story. Later, Isaac was blind and dying, so Jacob put some fur on himself, pretended to be Esau, and stepped in to take Isaac’s blessing that was meant for his firstborn. Rebekah orchestrated the whole charade.

Long story short, Jacob changed his name to Israel and a people was born…

…originating with a trickster who lied and stole to get what he wanted.

It’s easy to say that his actions were immoral or sinful, but is that the only message we can glean from this complicated tale?

What does it say about God that the unexpected, underdog, tricksters often become the objects of divine blessing? What does it say about us that we and the Bible seem to value cleverness and trickery?

If you’re interested in reading further into this issue, I recommend this blog post to get you started and this book to take you deeper.

When domination systems/systems of power constantly give advantage to some and great disadvantage to others, could trickery be a viable way to seek justice?

 

The Rev’d Curtis Farr is the assistant rector of St. James’s Episcopal Church in West Hartford, Connecticut. He offers reflections on the lectionary readings for the upcoming Sunday. He keeps a blog at FatherFarr.com.

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