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St. Paul’s – Proper 12 – 7/30/2023

An observation: anyone insisting that we turn to the Bible for any kind of definition as to what marriage is might want to revisit that thought after reading the story of Jacob’s wedding. We might also ask ourselves how it is that Jacob the Deceiver becomes the father and namesake of a great nation of God’s people, Israel? After all this is the younger son who stole the older son’s birthright through disguised deception. Despite the deception, God promises Jacob will become the father of numerous offspring, the same promise made to Abraham.

Act One: Jacob’s wedding: We may recall that last week God said to Jacob, I will be with you always…. And we might note that in this narrative of Jacob’s wedding God seems to be absent. As we all ask sometime or another, Where is God? Why does God seem to be absent?

One answer would be that unlike his father Isaac, Jacob does not pray for God to help him find a wife. Instead, he continues to rely on his own cunning. So one has to crack at least a smile when Jacob wakes up the morning after his marriage, and after seven years of working for his Uncle Laban to win the hand of Rachel, only to find out that, When morning came, it was Leah! As Uncle Laban observed upon meeting Jacob back in verse 14, Surely you are my bone and my flesh. It turns out that this means, Jacob the Deceiver, huh? Boy, you have met your match!

Now it helps to understand ancient Middle Eastern marriage customs just a little: the woman is veiled throughout the ceremony, at night, and wrapped in a cloak, at night, and taken home to the husband’s tent, at night. No doubt everyone has been drinking more than five cisterns of good wine! Jacob disguised himself as Esau; Laban disguises his daughter Leah as Rachel. Jacob complains. Laban replies, You may have gotten away with putting yourself before the first born, but that’s not how we do things around here! But for another seven years, you can have Rachel too. Lest we think this is all a tad old fashioned, rest assured that women are treated like this throughout many cultures to this day.

So both Leah and Rachel move in, and we know that life is not easy or tranquil in Jacob’s tent. So where is God? Why doesn’t the Lord intercede? Well it turns out God has been there all along adjusting the plan. For in the sequel, in verse 30, God observes that Leah is unloved. So God opens her womb, and Rachel is at least temporarily barren. Leah has four children: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. The children of Levi eventually come to serve the Lord in the Lord’s Temple in Jerusalem, and from  Judah come King David, Solomon and Jesus. Leah testifies to the Lord’s leading even through human deception! Lowly, outcast and unloved Leah!

What the story seems to be saying is that the Lord’s plan for salvation refuses to be derailed by human failings as clumsy as Jacob’s and Laban’s. Even more amazing is the suggestion that the Lord fulfills his promises even using human deception!

As Sidney Greidanus observes, Today we often wonder where God is when people deceive each other. Nations go to war and kill innocents; Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus and all manner of people are persecuted and killed; children are abused. Is God absent? Is God not aware of what is going on? The wedding of Jacob tells us that God is not absent and is aware of what is going on. But God has also given us humans the freedom and responsibility to plan and act. Because we are sinful creatures, we often mess up, but even then we can be sure that somehow the Lord will use us to fulfill God’s purposes even with our failings. [The Lectionary Commentary: The First Readings (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids:2001) p.60]

Act Two: In the words of Jesus, Jacob, the even more notorious Laban, and lowly, outcast and unloved Leah are Pearls of Great Value. It sounds odd, but consider this.

Years ago, long before becoming the Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts, Tom Shaw SSJE, spoke to a group of clergy and addressed one of the Parables of the Kingdom, The Pearl of Great Value. Bishop Shaw began by saying that our God is a very frugal God and does not waste one iota, not one jot or tittle, of our life experience. Each moment we live and breathe on this fragile Earth, our island home, God values and savors who we are and what we are doing – especially the work we do for God’s kingdom – but even when we or circumstances are not so good.

Shaw went on to say that a hidden truth embedded in the Good News of Jesus, and hidden in these parables like yeast in dough, is that at the end of the day each one of us is the Pearl of Great Value. Through our Baptism, we are made God’s Beloved. To show how much our God loves us, he sends his only Son to walk among us, dwell among us, to show us the way of the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus.

So much does God savor our life experience that the Lord did not let us get away with killing his Son, his only Son whom he loves, but returned him to us, so that wherever communities of Christians gather in his name, Jesus himself is in the midst of them, calling us back to the God from whence we come: We come from love, we return to love, and love is all around. We are God’s Beloved.

Bishop Shaw urged us to think of ourselves as Pearls of Great Value, hidden in this world, for which God was willing to pay a great price: the ultimate price. God sold all that God had to obtain us, to retain us, to bring us back home to him.

So precious are we in the eyes of our God, said Bishop Shaw, that we really need to take time each day in our prayers to allow God the time to thank us for what we have done for God today. Every day we are to sit in silence in our prayer time and allow ourselves to feel God  thanking us for all that we do for God in this world. Are we really capable of believing and knowing that God loves us that much? Can we feel like Pearls of Great  Value? It is central to the life of faith to accept and receive God’s love – to know how much our God values us and everything that we do.

We do not need to do big and heroic things. And likeJacob, we can mess up big time. The truth is, as God’s own pearls of great value, most every little thing we do brings a smile to God’s face. And God forgives us the rest. The more we let God thank us for what we can do for God, the more confident and empowered we become as God’s own people. And soon the people around us and the people we meet begin to feel like pearls of great value as well.

It all begins with faith: Faith that God is with us even when it doesn’t look like it, and Faith that God will use all of our experience for a greater good. All we really need is faith as small as a mustard seed to make the whole creation new; to give new life to our own tired bodies; to put a smile on the face of a stranger; to plant seeds of God’s love throughout the neighborhood in which God has made his home. We are all Pearls of Great Value!

Let us pray:                 

Scandalous God,

sowing weeds among their crop,

raising bread with impure yeast,

offering treasurer beyond price,

casting a net that catches good and bad:

throw down our mean idols

of purity and possession

and let the Son of man

show us your inclusive,


wide-branching love;

through Jesus Christ, the stumbling block