Do you ever feel like you’re not good enough, or that you have to pretend to be someone you’re not in order to get ahead or feel holy? I’m sure most of us can raise our hands at one moment in our life or another. If so, then the story of Jacob is for you.
Jacob and his twin brother, Esau, are the only children of Isaac, whose father was Abraham. Abraham held the promise of God that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. It wasn’t until his grandson, Jacob, that this prophecy started to come to life. Just as God changed Abraham’s name, Jacob eventually is given the name Israel, and his sons formed the 12 tribes of Israel.
But we haven’t gotten to that part of the story yet.
During their birth, Esau was born before Jacob, which was a big deal. In ancient Israel, the firstborn son was given the father’s blessing and everything was eventually handed down to him, including authority, priesthood/kingship, and material goods. Although Esau and Jacob were twins, Esau was born first and therefore possessed the birthright. However, at their birth Jacob held on to the heel of Esau and it was prophesied that the older would serve the younger (Gn 25:23).
Fast forward to when they are adults, and Isaac is old and blind. Jacob convinces Esau to sell him his material birthright over a meal (hungry men can do desperate things). However, in order to receive the blessing as well, he disguises himself as Esau by putting fur on his arm (Esau was quite hairy) and going to his father, who gives him the blessing before his death. He then flees for his life from Esau, back to the land of his mother’s family.
On his way in the wilderness, he stops to sleep. He cozies up with a rock as a pillow (because who wouldn’t?) and has a dream that night of a stairway to heaven, with the angels ascending and descending (Gen 28:12). God gives Jacob a prophecy that one day He will give this land to Jacob’s descendants, whom will spread out over the entire earth (Gen 28:13-15). Interestingly, this is near the site where God also appeared to Abraham and gave him the prophecy of his descendants. It is also near the future temple in Jerusalem, and can be seen as a foreshadowing of the location where heaven and earth, through the 12 tribes of Israel, will eventually meet in worship.
When God tells Jacob it’s time to return home, after living with his kinsman for years and marrying two of his daughters, he earnestly prays to God. While he left his homeland in deceit, he seeks to return in honesty. On the night before he and his family are to cross over into Esau’s land, Jacob has another encounter with God, this time as a strange man with whom he wrestles with all night (Gen 32:25-31). At daybreak, the man tells Jacob that his new name is Israel (meaning “one who wrestles with God”). Jacob pleads for a blessing, and this time receives it the honest way. He returns home and embraces Esau in forgiveness, and continues to grow his family of 12 sons.
So how does this story apply to our lives as women of God, as daughters of Christ?
We are the spiritual family of Israel, who descend from Jesus. We are the 12 tribes, more numerous than the stars. His birth as the firstborn son was in place for all of us as God’s children, for through Him we receive the ultimate birthright. Much like Jacob, we don’t deserve it, but it is freely given to us over a meal. Jesus descends the stairway of heaven so that we may ascend with Him.
We can’t be afraid, therefore, to approach God the Father and ask for His blessing, thinking we have to pretend to be someone we’re not in order to receive it. We don’t have to be holier than the woman next to us. Even Jacob’s twelve sons were born of four different mothers. We are not perfect, but God has chosen to work through us anyway, and gives us the blessing simply for who we are. It’s only when we turn from His grace that we get into trouble. So snuggle up close to the manger this Advent and dare to ask for His blessing.
Reflect: Do you need to seek reunion with one of your brothers or sisters? Or someone else in your family or community? Have you deceived anyone or been deceived and need to ask for/receive forgiveness?
Reflect : Just as Jacob saw God in particular places, are there specific “heavenly pockets” in our lives where we feel especially connected to God? Where the veil between heaven and earth seems thinner?
Act: Ask for the Father’s blessing this Advent with an open and honest heart. If you are having a hard time, ask Our Lady to be with you just as Jacob’s mother helped him obtain Isaac’s blessing. Ask her to show you who you are in God’s eyes.