Jacob’s Ladder by Brian Whelan

Reflections on Genesis 27: 1-4, 15-23 and Genesis 28: 10-17

For me, there are stark parallels between the story of Jacob and Esau, and the state of America’s divided nation. The rivalry of brothers can affect nations. So it was with the nation of Israel. So it is with nations today. For a deeper dive into this parallel consider this MIDRASH ON ESAU’S STORY.

In this week’s narrative lectionary, we see an entire arc in this story. The first set of verses (Genesis 27: 1-4) explains how the birthright was intended for Esau. The second set of verses (Genesis 27: 15-23) show us how Jacob stole the birthright from Esau. And the third set of verses (Genesis 28: 10-17) shows us how Jacob wrestled with his transgressions and ultimately receive God’s blessing despite his trickery.

Interesting stuff, when we consider America’s own divided family. (Particularly interesting as I write from Minneapolis…)

The questions that arise for me as I explore the breadth of these stories: do we resent when someone flawed received blessings? Can we receive our own blessings without wrestling with our past mistakes? Where do we stand on that imaginary ladder between where we are and where God wants us to be?

As I think of those questions in context of a divided nation, I am struck by how so many Christians in America believe we deserve God’s blessings, even though we have not wrestled with our past transgressions. Other countries (like Rwanda, South Africa, and Ireland) could teach us well what gifts might come with wrestling with mistakes of the past. Until we have the courage to wrestle with the trickery and transgressions of our history, we will not be prepared for our future blessings or for God’s will to come.

Within the contexts of our churches and communities, we wrestle with blessings as well. Rivalries over blessings stem from a scarcity mentality, and divide us by denomination, geography, and class. When we honestly wrestle with the pain and brokenness of our pasts, of the ways we have hurt neighbor and self in trying to pry blessings from others hands, it can open us to move closer to God. To climb that ladder before us, and open ourselves to the greater blessings that are further up the ladder.

And perhaps that is the gift of Jacob’s story for this moment in time. To help us understand that all of us — even the most flawed of us — can open ourselves to greater blessings by wrestling with our past mistakes. In the struggle of accepting our imperfect past, we unlock our blessed futures. May that be the blessing of Jacob for us. May it be so.


Rev. Cathy M. Kolwey is a writer, artist, and pastor who has been working at the intersection of spirituality and the arts for over 20 years. She is currently the associate pastor of spiritual formation at Colonial Church of Edina in MN. She also blogs at https://cmkolwey.com/


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