Nobody hates being tricked more than someone who usually does the tricking. I once had a friend who I thought was a bit of a shyster in his business life, and one time he told me about the time he thought he would try out running a small suburban Deli. He got it cheap and thought it would be easy money. Not long after he took over the business he discovered some the traps Deli owners have to deal with every day – like the bread delivery being short on what was ordered and what was charged – especially if you weren’t there when the delivery was made at 5.30am. Similarly, the dairy delivery was often short and if you weren’t there to check it as it was delivered, there was no recourse, because anyone could have taken it.
I remember smiling to myself at the level of his indignation over this, knowing that he had done similar kinds of skimming for his own benefits in business many times.
At the heart of our story of the Great Family today is a double cross – meted out on the double-crosser.
Jacob had twice cheated his brother Esau, and here in this story his Uncle cheats on him. I wonder if he knew the story of Jacob and wanted to teach him a lesson – I guess we will never know. As a result Jacob stayed a long time in Haran, maybe also out of his fear that Esau would harm him if he went home. But I wonder if there was something more to Jacob’s willingness to work that enormous period of time for his uncle.
We read four very short parables from Matthew’s Gospel today, parables illustrating what the kingdom of Heaven is like. In one he says: 45 "The Kingdom of heaven is like this. A man is looking for fine pearls, 46 and when he finds one that is unusually fine, he goes and sells everything he has, and buys that pearl.”
As I look at the way Jacob stuck at the task of getting himself the wife he wanted, working for no pay for 14 years, I think you could say there was something of the Kingdom of Heaven in him. He had found something of great value and he gave everything he had to get it. The way I read this story the quality of the Kingdom is not the pearl. It is the willingness of someone to give up everything to get the prize. This is a quality Jesus is calling up in us all – to be willing to sacrifice everything we have in order to have the prize – which is true and abundant life in Jesus.
The other thing that comes out of this story for me is the overflowing grace of God in the face of people doing the wrong things – over and over and over.
Despite the acts of treachery that are at the heart of these stories, God is able to make good out of them. It is not in the nature of God to achieve his means through foul methods – that is the earthly and failed way of us sons of Adam and daughters of Eve (as CS Lewis calls us).
We see this kind of grace from God again and again in the record we have of what we call Sacred History. God tries to reveal his plan to people. Sometimes they are good at getting it. Other times the go their own way. God then by God’s grace he can still work out his plan despite that.
Now I want to finish on a little note that really is drawn from what follows in the story – that we did not read here today. I want to draw your attention to God’s compassion in the story of Jacob and his two wives.
The business of favourites comes up again in this story. 31 “When the LORD saw that Leah was loved less than Rachel, he made it possible for Leah to have children, but Rachel remained childless.”
It does not say “Because Jacob loved his wife Leah less than he should have, he prevent Jacob’s favourite wife from having children.” This is not about punishing bad choices. It is about graciously and compassionately looking after those who are being treated badly.
These are good things for us to be reminded of:
1. We need to be willing to give up all we have to possess the fullness of live Jesus is offering us.
2. God’s grace can still achieve his purposes despite the wilfulness of people, or even just the thick-headedness of people (they don’t get what God is trying to get us to get)
3. God’s compassion is always offered to those who are being hurt by others.