Scripture Reading: Genesis 31 (NRSV)
I like how God tells Jacob with whom he is dealing in verse 13: “I am the God of Bethel.” My 21st century mind reads this and replies, “Well, who else would you be?” But for Jacob, there needed to be an identification of which deity was addressing him. In those days, we see that many other gods were thought to not only exist but to interact with humanity.
|Today’s household gods may look a little different!|
We see this in the fact that Rachel decides to steal the household gods from her father Laban. These would have been small idols that may be placed prominently in a house or tent. They might be consulted for decisions or divining the future. Rachel cleverly conceals them claiming that she is menstruating while they stay hidden in the saddle bag she’s sitting on. A Hebrew audience would see this as humorous as she would have been seen as unclean through Judaic law. The fact that pagan idols were treated disrespectfully in this manner would be a matter of mirth for the reader.
As Jacob and Laban do a little family feudin’, we see this struggle of generations between father-in-law and son-in-law. Although both have prospered, both want more. What should have been a happy relationship has been polluted by greed. Laban is somewhat of a scoundrel that is out-scoundreled by Jacob. But at the same time, Jacob may have matured by being around someone with whom he has to watch his back all the time.
Ultimately, Laban has seen Jacob as absconding with his flocks and family. Even wives and children are seen as property in this context. Jacob is trying to find some new freedom by relocating out of reach of Laban.
When Jesus heard this story of his ancestors, he may have been influenced to tell this parable in Luke 12:16-20:
“The land of a rich man produced abundantly.
Jesus may tell us this parable to remind us that even property and goods are not truly “owned” by someone. And certainly, not people or family members! Sometimes we may seek a claim on our family but often the tighter the grip, the more our loved ones want to get away. This may cause us to reevaluate our relationships with one another.
May the God of love who is the source of all our affection for each other formed here on earth take our friendships into his keeping, that they may continue to increase throughout life and beyond it, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prayer by William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, 20th century