Family Drama

Wednesday July 20

One of the joys of following the lectionary is that it often confronts us with difficult passages.  This week we are reading the story of Laban and Jacob, in which Jacob works for the hand of Rachel, but gets Leah instead (Genesis 29:15-28).  Unfortunately, the lectionary also sanitizes the text, presenting only a small portion of the story.  I encourage you to read the larger narrative found in Genesis 29:1-30:24.  It’s a soap opera, filled with love, betrayal and a contest for affection.  The space for discussion is as fertile as Leah.
We could go political.  In contemporary rhetoric, the phrases “biblical marriage” and “traditional marriage” fly around pretty freely.  Here we have an example in which women are treated as property, bought and sold for procreation.  It’s one man and 2-4 women whose status shifts – from daughter to wife or maid to wife and back again – according to the needs of the men who control them.  What does DOMA have to say about that?
We could also go theological.  As the story continues, God is both blamed and credited with a lot.  Specifically, God alone controls child-bearing and thus presumably Jacob’s love for each of the women.  One could fairly ask if that is how God operates, pulling the strings of fate.  Further, one could ask if God supports a system in which the value of a woman is determined solely by her ability to provide (male) children.
But perhaps the human story is the most compelling.  Laban’s deception of Jacob and the reversal of favor for the firstborn reflect back on Jacob’s treatment of Esau.  The competition between Leah and Rachel for Jacob’s affection seems tragically misguided.  And where is the voice of Zilpah and Bilhah?
Regardless of the configuration, family is complicated.  Family is the space where we negotiate (for) love and set ourselves and those to whom we are connected on a path.  It often neither starts nor ends where we expect.  The truth is, the story of our family started long before we were born and will continue long after we are gone.  It is a story in which people have felt heard by God and people have felt judged and loved and hated and lucky and happy.  Its telling is its writing; the ways we understand our relationships with one another create the world we live in.  I hope you’ll join us on Sunday to write a little more of that story.

Grace and Peace,

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