Reconciliation: The Cruciform Cost of Relational Peace-Making An Object Lesson from the Jacob and Esau Story

Josefina Alys Hermes de Vasconcellos - "Reconciliation"

Reconciliation by Josefina Alys Hermes de Vasconcellos

Grace is costly. It may accrue to us freely, but it cost Jesus dearly. Love is costly, as is peace-making reconciliation. It is not enough to  understand these things as abstractions. We must grow in grace-ness (graciousness) toward others—even those with whom we may disagree or those who may have hurt us. Jesus was wounded in the house of his friends and betrayed by one of his most intimate friends.[1]  The disciple is not above the Master. We have been given a ministry of reconciliation to, and for, the world and it is a tall order. Would it not make sense that it actually work among those who call upon Jesus as Lord, before we try to export our convictions to others?

Anyone can theoretically wax eloquent and preach a great sermon about the values of love, peacemaking, inclusivity, reconciliation, etc. But when there is an emotional, financial, psychological, or relational price to be paid to realize these virtues, many are AWOL. Loving the Lord we understand a little. Loving our offending brother, less. Loving each other in a cruciform way (love each other as I have loved you)—well, very few have a graduation certificate from that program.

The familiar story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 32-33 has some lessons for us regarding the cruciform cost of being peacemaking ministers of reconciliation.

Jacob conspired with his mother to cheat Esau out of his birthright and blessing. In the story, Isaac gave Jacob at least three distinct opportunities to honestly identify himself–he didn’t. This is not a one-off moment of weakness. This is lying with malice and intent—good reason for an offense. Speaking as patriarch and as the oracle of God, Isaac prophetically blesses Jacob in disguise as Esau. He tells Jacob some things that we must catch: God said, speaking through Isaac: people will serve you, nations will bow down to you and, you will be Lord over your brothersThis is the determinate declaration of the Almighty to a lying cheat. You might say that is a “sure word.”

Years of sin [2] pass, and Jacob has a divine encounter with the messengers of God at the beginning of Chapter 32.  If we had been Jacob we would have written a book about our encounters with angels and booked a bus to start our revival ministry tour. Note: In the very next verse he is reminded that he is not reconciled with his brother! The fruit of an encounter with God is an awareness of where reconciliation on planet earth is missing!

Justifiably afraid that Esau might kill him, [3] Jacob gives his servants a very specific message to convey. In it, Jacob identifies Esau as Lord and Jacob as his servant! A complete reversal of the “sure word” he received from the Almighty through his patriarch father! In a sense, he offers to Esau that which God had given to him, which was rightly Esau’s to begin with!  Jacob did not demand Esau agree with him, over the issue that brought the division. He yielded his right to be right, for the sake of winning back his brother. 

Restoring a broken relationship has to be more important to us than winning a doctrinal argument.  It does not mean that what we believe isn’t true or important. I do not think that Jacob had any doubt of the reality of what was his, even though he got it through deceit. But emotionally and interpersonallyhe let it go—he let it go so deeply that he was willing for a role reversal to take place, just so he could be reconciled to his offended brother.

The story unfolds as Jacob puts together a gift train for Esau. There are many cultural implications in this that I cannot go into here. The point is: the gifts cost Jacob something. They represented two things: the fruit of his life’s energy and work and the fruit of the genuineness of his repentance. God does not need us to “make good” to him in order for him forgive us. However, humans may need us to do so. There is such a thing as manifesting (bringing forth) fruit of repentance. This makes hyper-Protestants nervous. It need not be so. We just need to remember: the fruit is directed human-ward, to restore and reconcile, not toward God. A good tree simply bears good fruit. 

Cheap repentance—“I said I am sorry, so you have to forgive me”—is no repentance at all. The cycle of repentance (Confession, repentance, and restoration) is not complete until, if within my power to do so, [4] I restore—make whole—those whom I have hurt. Their restoration has to be more important to me than my right to be right on a point.

The story continues when Jacob has another divine encounter—wrestling with God at Peniel—and there he has a name change.  It is no coincidence that the issue of reconciliation with an offended other is sandwiched between two divine encounters.  This kind of reconciliation is humanly impossible. It is also no small coincidence that it is after Jacob has an awareness of his relational alienation, and afterhe has given up his right to be right, and after he has accepted the cost of reconciliation, that he has a name change. The personal character transformation and sanctification that we may desire are inextricably linked to our relationships with others. [5] Being a follower of Jesus is not a personal piety society, it is thoroughly social. It is about having right relationships with God and humanity.

As the gift caravan approaches Esau, everyone bows before Esau multiple times. Esau in turn greets Jacob with a kiss. There is a cultural nugget we must see here. For Mid-Eastern people, a kiss was the way you greeted a social equal. Bowing, prostrating one’s self, was the way an inferior acknowledged a social superior.  Jacob let Esau have the “upper hand.” He did not berate him with the “sure word” he received about Jacob being lord and the brothers serving him! Jacob let Esau have the honor that God had promised to himself.  Jacob was okay with it. He didn’t react.

Friends, we will never know the depths of God’s love in relational reconciliation if we are unwilling to let go of who is the “rightest” about the Bible.  Even the one who may indeed be right must be willing to seem to lose the point. This is Calvary-style love on planet earth.

Finally, and most profound to me, Jacob says to Esau: “When I saw you, it is as if I had seen the face of God.” He had just had two supernatural encounters! He had metaphorically “seen” or touched the essence of God. What is the fruit of the spiritual experiences? Seeing that in the offended other, God is present.

When dealing with broken humanity we are not dealing with an ideal. Sometimes when other parties are involved, reconciliation will not be possible. I get it. However, we can deal with out own hearts and come to grips with this Genesis version of Saul of Tarsus’ Acts 9 encounter on the road to Damascus. Jesus did not confront Saul about being “born again” to “go to heaven when he died.” But rather confronted Saul with the reality that Jesus was in complete association and identification with the “less than other”—the ones Saul considered (with proof text in hand) enemies, worthy of death. 

The church’s missional testimony before an unbelieving world is bound up in this: “By this shall all know that the Father has sent me and that you are my disciples: by your love for one another.” Do we really even have a message and mission if we don’t get this? We need to grow in grace-ness. We need to be able to look at the offending other and say: “When I saw you, it is as if I had seen the face of God.”

Love your enemies. Pray for those who despitefully use you—basic, but costly discipleship, and the fuel in the engine of mission.

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[1] The order of seating and the dipping/sharing of the sop in the upper room were all cultural signals of honor.

[2] Sin should be defined as relational alienation, not the common “miss the mark,” as in many concordances. The latter is not a Semitic understanding. The first recorded sin in scripture was relational alienation, not wrong behavior (Abel’s murder). Before the fall the woman was “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” After the fall, it was—the woman you gave me—relational alienation. Justification is relational rectification/restoration.

[3] The last word we have from Esau was a death threat.

[4] Obviously, if I have murdered someone, I cannot undo that. But if I have deeply wounded someone, I can engage with God in the process of restoring the damage I have caused through reformed behavior, the fruit of my repentance.

[5] Col. 2:2.

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7 comments on “Reconciliation: The Cruciform Cost of Relational Peace-Making An Object Lesson from the Jacob and Esau Story

  1. Luke 2:52~ And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

    Ephesians 4:11-13

    And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

    As far as “missing the mark” I do believe the spirit was wanting us to see how in the natural process of our physical growth, there were people who use to measure the physical growth of their children by putting a “mark’ or a notch on the wall, measuring their vertical growth.

    Paul pressing forward into the “mark’ of his high calling was to have Christ fully formed in him. And out of this, he exhorted the saints to not miss the “mark” of their high calling.

  2. Pingback: Missional Ecumenism: For the Sake His Name - Stephanos Ministries

  3. A good word Steve. “When I saw you, it was if I had seen the face of God” Gen. 33:10 was the part that got my attention. It is prophetic, because with it God got Jacob’s attention, and with that quote it got Esau’s attention.May we come to that place in our lives that we have no rights and nothing to prove.

  4. [5] being a follower of Jesus is not a personal piety society, it is thoroughly social.It is about having right relationships with God and humanity.

    Yes it is and Most if the time that (humanity) as we encounter – walk with – bear some burdens is Not what we pictured or predetermined it would be. Even the fruit or blessings are different than what we pictured.
    Good stuff Sir

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