Scripture for this Sunday: Genesis 25.19-34; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
I am not entirely sure about all the details of Menorca’s inheritance practices, but apparently disposal of the property of a deceased person requires the consent of all the heirs. It is supposed to guarantee equality, but it sounds like an opportunity for all sorts of sibling shenanigans. Presumably many families work it out amicably.
Not all families are so harmonious – especially some of the examples in the book of Genesis. The story of Jacob, whose names derives from ‘heel grabber,’ synonymous with ‘trickster’ in Hebrew vernacular, is one full of deceit, deception and skulduggery.
The Bible skips from his heel-grabbling birth directly to Esau’s willingness to let his birthright go for what the Authorised Version of the Bible calls a ‘mess of pottage.’ While it does not sound like a gourmet meal, it was evidently sufficiently tasty for Esau to relinquish his rights as first-born. The real point is that Esau simply did not appreciate the value of his birthright.
What about us? What is our birthright, and do we value, or despise it? There is much going on in the world today that focuses on exactly that point: do we understand what we inherit through birth, and what it means to our position in life, and the opportunities that we have, compared to others?
My own experience is that, for example, in the USA, African-Americans cannot behave exactly as middle-class white people – even immigrants – would do because of the consequences of something as simple as exceeding the speed limit while driving – there are additional risks involved. Not all birthrights have been equal.
We have one particular aspect of our birthright that is of immense value. It is the Christian gospel, the word that has been sown amongst us. I wonder how many of us at one time or another behave like the ground that is stony, or covered with thorns, so that we either have no root, and can’t stick with the message when the going gets tough, or places us in an awkward position. Or how many are choked spiritually by our own comfortable living?
The birthright has this simple principle: love God, and love your neighbour as yourself. Not more than yourself, just as yourself. It means that human life is valuable – and lives have equal value.
Those who contend that ‘all lives matter’ might be pedantically correct, but miss the basic point: until now, not all lives have mattered equally, to brutalise a quote from George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
We have this birthright, this gospel to proclaim, as the gradual hymn says. This word sown among us says that all human lives are of value to God and so should be of value to all of us, without discrimination. If we devalue the humanity of another human being, then we devalue our own humanity. Let’s not toss aside this valuable birthright of being loved equally by God for the mess of pottage that is called denial.