Most of us will be feasting tomorrow on turkey, maybe some mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. More than likely we will have a simpler day than in past years with fewer family members. This may cause some stress and disappointment, some regret or sadness. We can choose to remember, however, that, although 2020 is a difficult year, full of trials that would seek to undo us, it is temporary. We are yet alive to the blessings of God, of family, of friends, of this beautiful, broken world.
Thousands of years ago one very different man came in from hunting in the fields. He was tired and “famished,” and although he wasn’t in any particular danger, he chose to focus on the one thing he did not have – the red vegetarian concoction simmering in front of him.
And Jacob prepared a stew and Esau came from the field, and he was famished. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me gulp down some of this red red stuff, for I am famished.” Therefore is his name Edom. And Jacob said, “Sell now your birthright to me.” And Esau said, “Look, I am at the point of death, so why do I need a birthright?” And Jacob said, “Swear to me now,” and he swore to him, and he sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and he drank and he rose and he went off, and Esau spurned the birthright.
Here, I make use of Robert Alter’s masterful 2019 translation of the Hebrew Bible. Esau’s crude speech and desperate manner reveal something to me of my own tendencies toward ingratitude. Esau gulps down his food, sneering at his birthright. He doesn’t even appreciate the responsibilities and privileges he does have. So distracted by his present hunger, he will not see the temporary nature of his troubles, nor will he see the good of his family and fields and the love of his father and the closeness of his brother.
He lacks gratitude. So there is no thanksgiving. Only hunger.
Esau exaggerates his hunger, and his troubles enlarge exponentially. Because of his myopia and thanklessness, he becomes vulnerable prey for his brother, a trickster and an opportunist, as he sets him a trap. When we are focused primarily on our hardships, we open ourselves up to the temptations and deceit of sin and stealth, even in the guise of a bowl of red stew. As much as I enjoy a hearty serving of spiced lentils, I am determined to hang on to my birthright.
By longing for something that is presently beyond my grasp, that perhaps is not even in God’s plan for me, what am I potentially forfeiting? Am I grasping for something arbitrarily, simply because I am ungrateful for what my arms already hold? Many of us have lost much this year. I don’t dare to neglect that fact. However, God is still good. He continues to give bowls of red stew, but also relationships, beauty, nature, his goodness, his promises of better futures, and as I look around, worlds of wonder that should never drive me to despair.
May I still recognize my troubles rightly, but not forget to be grateful for the abundance of good persistently in my life.
Esau ate and drank and rose and went off. Did he even taste the red stuff which cost him so much? May our gratitude be ever before us so we savor every good blessing. God longs to give us so many good things; let’s not look down on any of them.