Hold out your hand


Genesis 33:1-4: Now Jacon looked up and saw Esau coming, and four hundred men with him. So, he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. He put the maids with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on ahead of them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near his brother. But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.

If there was ever a character in the Bible who does not deserve the hero, good guy status that has been afforded to him, it is Jacob from the book of Genesis. While it is true that Jacob is the father of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and while it’s also true that Jacob was the brother who God picked to carry on the promise that had been made to his grandfather, it’s simply undeniable that Jacob is a real jerk. He’s a turd, even he doesn’t have to be. Jacob steals from his brother and lies to his father. He manipulates his father-in-law and cheats his way into great wealth. He encourages competition between his wives and amongst his children—causing strife and chaos. He runs away when anything in his life gets hard—leaving others to have to deal with the wreckage of the consequences of his poor choices. It’s enough to kind of make a person wonder what God was thinking. Sure, Esau is a little bit dumb, and he’s into pagan women, but are those things really worse than Jacob’s long list of sins?

Given this, it is simultaneously a total surprise and not a surprise at all that when the rubber hits the road and Jacob is forced to face the brother who he wronged and whose life he blew up that it is not Jacob who makes the move to mend the divide, but Esau. When Jacob realizes that he is going to have to pass by his brother’s territory, making amends or asking for forgiveness doesn’t seem to even cross his mind. He delves straight into what he does best—scheming and avoiding and manipulating. He sends gifts of farm animals and hides behind his wives and children, in hopes that these things will soften Esau’s angry heart.

Esau’s heart, however, has already been softened. We don’t know how, exactly, because the Bible isn’t focused on Esau’s story, but whether time really does heal all wounds, or Esau had worked really hard at it, his anger toward Jacob had faded long ago. It is Esau who runs to his brother. It is Esau who wraps Jacob in a hug. It is Esau who collapses into his brother’s arms and weeps. It is Esau—who has been cheated and harmed and treated like an enemy—who makes the first move to reach out. It is Esau who grabs across the chasm for his brother’s hand and who takes that initial step toward restoring what had been broken.

There is no denying that the moment in time in which you and I are currently living is a heavily divided one. We are people who might physically live near to one another, but who do not live as neighbors. We are people who share a Father in Heaven but who quit showing up to family reunions or having any meaningful relationship with one another years ago. Regardless of which brother we might identity with on any given day, we are a country, a state, and a community full of Jacobs and Esaus. We hurt each other. We draw lines in the sand. We hang on to our resentments. We live our lives as separate entities—as us versus them.

With yet another polarizing election coming up, there is a lot of space for things to get a whole lot worse. If we think back to 2016 and again to 2020, we can see the trajectory. We thought that things were going to get better, and they did not. We thought that things were already as bad as they could get, and that proved to be utterly untrue. Despite all of our wishful thinking, the conflict and the strife that makes up American life in 2024 is not going to just go away.

There is hope, though—both because there is always hope, and because God is calling people of faith to look back at the example of our brother, Esau, and to hold out our hands. What if we put in some effort? What if we stretched out across the chasm? What if we went in for the hug? What if we put relationship over resentment? What if we embodied Jesus on the cross and sought to make our enemies friends? What if we if we reached across the divide? What if we made space instead of kicking people out?

There is a lot more to say about this for sure. Reconciliation is a complicated business. It starts with reaching out but does not end there. There is a lot more to it than just making the first move. After all, there is a reason why so many of us are so content to live in our bubbles and not try to mend the divides. Interpersonal relationships are hard. But we do have to start somewhere. So, let’s start here.

What if we forgave? What if we swallowed our pride? What if we released our pain? What if we stopped holding grudges? What if we learned how to trust each other again? What if we learned how to talk and how to listen? What if we became neighbors again, in the truest sense of the word?

What if there was less violence in the world? What if we could work through our problems on the onset instead of letting them fester? What if we could find common ground? What if we could come together in mutual love? What if we could be the siblings and neighbors who we were created to be? What grace and wholeness might be birthed? What goodness might God do?

Hannah Lutz is the pastor at both Ada Chapel Friends Meeting and Wilmington Friends Meeting in Wilmington.

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