Last night on a flight to St. Louis I had a conversation with a very unique man. He was agnostic, and really, really interesting. He was the assistant Grand Marshall of Arms in D.C. And he had rubbed shoulders with the elite and powerful of this country.
When he asked me what I did for a living, the conversation turned toward the Bible. He knew the basic characters, and I guess was trying to be polite and make conversation. But then he said something that I felt needed a reply. He said he was glad that the Bible was around, it gives people something to strive for. But he could never be as good as those characters in the BIble.
So I told him that he already was.
And here’s what I mean by that:
In Genesis 27, there’s a story about a man named Isaac who has two sons, actually he has twins. The older one, Esau, has a bit of a body hair problem. His younger brother, Jacob, is a mama’s boy. Genesis says that while his brother Esau was out hunting wild game, Jacob stayed among the tents.
Which is a Hebrew idiom to say he enjoyed pottery making and scrapbooking.
And when Jacob finds out that his father is dying, he knows what that means. His older brother’s going to get the blessing, the inheritance, and he’s gonna have to serve his hairy older brother for the rest of his life.
So Jacob makes a traitor’s move for his father’s blessing, pretending to be his older brother he takes his inheritance, and when his brother finds out, Jacob has to run away from home. But not before his father Isaac blesses him again, forgiving his error and requesting that he doesn’t marry a Caananite woman.
Because we all know what loose broads the Canaanite women are.
And when Esau hears that this is what his father wants, the first thing he does is rebel and marry one. Just to tick off his dad. And now Esau, the older brother, the one wronged, becomes the 2nd person to break his dad’s heart.
Flash forward thousands of years. Jesus is taking a bunch of heat from the religious leaders who don’t like the kind of ministry he is doing, mainly what kind of people he is doing ministry with. And so Jesus tells them a story.
But it’s not just some random yarn he’s spinning. He tells them the story of a father with two sons, one who gets his inheritance through shady means and then goes off to a far country. And the older brother in turn acts like a jerk.
If you’re the religious leaders you’ve got to be thinking, “Wait, we’ve heard this story before.” And they had. Because Jesus was doing a midrash, or interpretation, of the story of Jacob and Esau. A guy who would later become named Israel.
In other words, Jesus responds to his critics, by telling them their own story.
And letting them know they were playing the wrong character.
See the Pharisees, these godly men, who we would have probably been friends with, didn’t like the idea of nefarious people, the hookers and tax collectors getting in on their party. But that’s only because they had forgotten the way that their own story had started.
Their very own Patriarch, the guy who their nation was named after, wasn’t that stand-up of a guy, and God chose him. They are placing themselves in a position of authority, picking and choosing who’s in and who’s out. And so Jesus holds up a mirror, reminding them who they are, and where they come from.
They have forgotten that they are the directly descendants of God’s choosing someone who didn’t meet their own standards.
Religion can make us forgetful can’t it? We experience God’s power in our lives and slowly but surely we notice that He is transforming us into being more like Him. But the danger is that we begin to try and close the door on the very kinds of people we used to be.
This is the power of Scripture. Show me one developed character in the Bible who the Scriptures present only their good side (except Jesus). It’s like God knows the tendency we have to whitewash over people after the death and refuses to let us forget that Rahab had an occupation before hero, Elijah was emotionally unhealthy, or that even men after God’s own heart commit affairs…and murder.
I know some people who I liked better before they were Christians. Not because they are living the wrong story, but because they have forgotten the way their own story began. And this is the beauty of the Bible, it’s not a bunch of polished characters. But real flesh and blood people with junk in their lives that could make anyone blush.
Which is kind of disarming. Because the bar isn’t as high as you thought.
So as we learn the story that God is telling, may we never forget how our own one began.
Because there are prodigals who are still wanting to come home.