Many Christians are guided in Sunday worship by some version of a Revised Common Lectionary, which have nearly universal appeal and applicability. Here is a three-part sampling of the texts for this weekend.
In Genesis chapter 32, we read that Jacob left a displeased father-in-law (and uncle), Laban, and took with him his two wives who were daughters of Laban, his maids, his 11 children (grandchildren of Laban), and everything that he) had” — on his way to his home in Canaan.
Naturally, Jacob was afraid that Laban might come after him; but at the same time Jacob faced the danger of encountering his twin brother Esau, whom some years earlier he had cheated out of his full inheritance.
Laban represents the more imminent danger while Esau represents Jacob’s fear that his twin might be waiting, somewhere up ahead, to do Jacob, just Jacob, harm. So Jacob sent his wife, daughters and the others to the far side of the Jabbok ford to get them safe.
Then, when he was alone, Jacob has his famous anxiety dream or anxious experience. He is set upon by a “man” — perhaps Laban from behind, or perhaps Esau from ahead of him, or more likely by a good or retaliatory angel, or by God’s self, or by his, Jacob’s, own conscience. He wrestles until daybreak, earning the name Israel, which means “wrestled with God and prevailed.”
The iniquity that we encounter in life may in large part be the fruit of our own misdeeds, sown by ourselves. Or our great endeavors may often be hampered by some unresolved sense of guilt. So we should behave, unswervingly.
Next, in Jeremiah chapter 31, we encounter a reminder that God has expressed God’s preference for a notion of justice: “All shall die for their own sins.”
Stated another way: Once it was thought that when “parents have eaten sour grapes; their children’s teeth are set on edge.” It means that the sins of the parents might once have been thought to be visited inevitably on their progeny. However, the prophet Jeremiah instead foresees a Messianic Age when “the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.”
The question remains whether progeny can escape all consequences of the acts and omissions of their progenitors. And the answer, though not explicit in Jeremiah chapter 31, seems to be no, not all consequences. Birth in humble circumstances, like those of the Savior, need not define entirely the trajectory or outcome of one’s life. After all, Jesus probably never lost his skills and accompanying instincts — or simply his articulated frame of reference — as a carpenter or shepherd or seaside fisherman. However, the Master surely transcended, as we might likewise, any unseemly aspects of such endeavor.
In the Second Letter of Paul to the Great Apostle’s young disciple, Timothy, chapter 3, at verses 16 and 17: “All scripture is inspired by God (God-breathed) and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”
Whoever has ears, let them hear.
— The Rev. Dr. Wesley S. Williams Jr., K.St.J., is Priest Scholar and Chaplain at Washington National Cathedral and previously was Bishop’s Dean and Sub-Dean and Priest in Charge in congregations in the Episcopal Diocese of the Virgin Islands (U.S. and U.K.)