Genesis. The action revolves around another pair of brothers, Esau and Jacob (recall Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac!). Jacob, grasping from birth, distrustful (compare God’s generous promise and Jacob’s lawyerly response [28:13-15, 20-22]), and encountering a kindred soul in…Laban. Esau: Moberly provides the most interesting entry point into the cycle of stories I’ve encountered: “For those of us who feel ‘unfavored’ in terms of what we were born with, who wish we were other than what we are, learning to live well with what we are can be one of life’s greatest challenges.… The only questions that are fruitful are not of a backward-looking and rationalizing nature, but rather of a forward-looking and practical nature: ‘What can I/we/you/they do about this? What can I/we/you/they yet hope for?” (The God of the Old Testament) And it takes some time for Esau to sort this out.
Hebrews. This week we reach the end of this remarkable book, which throughout maintains a creative tension between celebrating God’s new and definitive act in Jesus which is simultaneously in the most profound continuity with this God’s prior acts. The long list of the Old Testament faithful (Heb 11): the author’s ground for confidence that “make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will” (v.21) is not whistling in the dark.
John. There are multiple ways we might come at these stories of conflict; here are two. (1) Abraham comes up repeatedly in chapter 8. Since we’ve just finished reading the Abraham stories, how might a closer reading of these stories checked Jesus’ audience’s confident “Abraham is our father”? (What happens if we read 8:1-11 together with the patriarchs’ habit of passing their wives off as their sisters [Gen 12:10ff; 20:1ff; 26:6ff?)
(2) There’s an old story from the early days of the evangelization of Northern Europe. A tribe agreed to baptism, but only on the condition that their sword arms stayed dry. Even among those who “believed” in Jesus (8:31) there were topics Jesus could address, topics that were verboten. We could do worse than use that as a mirror.