If you spend much time – well, any time, really – on social media these days, you can’t miss the fact that the internet is full of quizzes. These quizzes promise to tell you which Star Trek or Game of Thrones character you are; what city you should live in, or the color of your aura.
There are so many quizzes that you can’t take even a fraction of them, but in the last week I happened to notice that many of my friends had been taking a quiz that promised to measure how good and evil you are: 100 percent? 80/20? 68/32?
The multiple choice questions that offer such precise measures of character are along the lines of whether you’d park in a handicapped space, rejoice in a “snow day” provided by a natural disaster that endangers others, break up a street fight, or take literal candy from an actual baby. (I took the candy purely out of the goodness of my heart and fear of choking – who gave that infant a Snickers bar in the first place??)
It’s entertaining to see the results of that quiz – and particularly the reactions to those results – that people post on Facebook. But I’d really love to give this quiz to the various characters in our Old Testament story today.
We start with Jacob, the apparent victim of a dirty trick in this story, who has shown up at his Uncle Laban’s house fresh from stealing his brother’s inheritance and tricking his dying father.
Then there’s Laban, taking advantage of Jacob’s infatuation with his younger daughter, plus a little wedding-party drinking, to get the less-attractive older daughter married off first (not to mention gaining 14 years of labor in the household business!)
There’s Leah, even more the victim in this part of story, used as the object of the trick – who goes on to display a fair amount of ruthlessness herself as the marriage unfolds and the family grows.
And finally there’s Rachel, beautiful and romantic, whose perfect match with Jacob turns out to include some dirty tricks of her own including stealing her own father’s household gods to give Jacob extra advantage.
These are the people we honor as ancestors of our faith, God’s particularly and especially chosen agents of blessing for the world.
The Bible records that on his way to Uncle Laban’s house, Jacob hears God promise that “Every family of earth will be blessed because of you and your descendants…I will protect you everywhere you go, and…I will not leave you until I have done everything that I have promised you." (Gen 28:14-15) Jacob’s family of cheaters and tricksters is the family God chooses, nurtures, and blesses as the core of God’s chosen people.
Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
It’s not just one or two episodes, either. The entire story of Jacob and his family, birth to death, is filled with manipulation, deceit, cheating, rivalry, generous blessing, and hedging of bets. Jacob would have parked in the handicapped spot. And he’d probably have taken that candy from the baby.
Is that what you were taught about the Bible in Sunday School?
Is that how Godly people are supposed to behave??
Is that how Godly people are supposed to behave??
There’s actually quite a bit of that kind of behavior in the Bible, frequently among the favored and chosen of God. In fact, there’s even a bit of underhanded maneuvering in the gospel parables we heard from Jesus today. Remember the one where a man plowing someone else’s field discovers treasure? What did he do – alert the owner of the field (who is presumably the owner of the treasure)?
Nope. Kept his mouth shut, hid the treasure, hurried to sell everything he owned to buy the field and claim the hidden treasure for himself.
Cheating, tricks, and self-interest are deeply rooted parts of the holiest story in the world.
If you come to church to escape that, or turn to faith for relief from the messiness of the world, I’m sorry to break it to you, but it’s not going to work out so well.
We confess our sin every Sunday, and we pray to God to guide us in justice, right choices and actions, care for our neighbors and those in need, and good and holy behavior. But we can’t forget that the
, and God’s agents
of blessing, are tricky, unexpected, messy and manipulative. Nothing in the
kingdom of heaven can be described as rule-bound, and nothing in the kingdom
happens “decently and in order,” (in a favored phrase of Episcopalians and
other mainline protestants)! kingdom
Forty years ago this Tuesday, at the Church of the Advocate in
Philadelphia, eleven Episcopal women and four
bishops deliberately broke the rules.
They made a lot of people angry and left some friends feeling betrayed
or frightened. And now the
anniversary of this subversive act is being celebrated with prayer and joy all
over my Facebook feed (in between the quizzes!) and at the highest levels of
the Episcopal Church today.
Those bishops ordained those eleven women as priests in the Episcopal Church, against our canons, which restricted priesthood to men. The ordinations were promptly declared invalid, and it took two years and four more “irregular” ordinations before The Episcopal Church formally approved the ordination of women as priests.
We look at them differently now, but it was quite clear at the time that those women and bishops were rule-breakers, “cheaters,” and troublemakers – and called by God to be agents of God’s blessing. That makes them Jacob’s heirs, and the kind of people we like to think don’t hang out in the church.
But we know the world is full of them.
You watch the news – I’m sure you can easily name some of the people in our world today who are cheaters, manipulators, and rule-breakers. [People responded: Politicians, doping athletes, Vladimir Putin, Rosa Parks, Hamas, the NSA…]
Just because someone’s good at dirty tricks doesn’t automatically make them God’s chosen – but what if we prayed for those people and groups today?
What if we prayed for Putin and doping athletes this week, and asked God to show us the blessings that they might spark, even by accident, in our world? What if we prayed for God to work through politicians, Hamas, and the NSA, inviting us into the kingdom of heaven through odd and possibly illegal doors?
The good news -the best news - of the gospel and of God’s messy blessings, is that God doesn’t judge us on whether we park in handicapped spaces, take candy from a baby, or break the laws of church or state.
God judges us, invests in us, and rejoices in us on the basis of how readily we take risks for a gospel that doesn’t always seem fair. God invests in us and blesses us on the basis of what we’ll do for freedom and love – and how willing we are to pursue that freedom and love for everyone in spite of custom and rules.
So you might spend a few minutes on the internet today: Take a quiz about good and evil, just to laugh at the result. Read a story about how the church changed one July day in 1974, and look at the messy, shocking, manipulative stories in the news today.
Then pray for the cheaters, the tricksters, the rule-breakers, and for you and me – pray that God works through us, that the dirty tricks spark generous blessings, and that none of us are afraid to take risks on the coming of the kingdom of heaven, now and always.