Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, ‘Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!’
Jacob replied, ‘First sell me your birthright.’
‘Look, I am about to die,’ Esau said. ‘What good is the birthright to me?’
But Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’ So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.
Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.
So Esau despised his birthright.
An honest spirituality keeps first things first. That’s true in spiritual matters as much as in anything else.
If you climb the corporate ladder at the expense of the relational health of your family, you have led a disordered life.
If you accrue wealth and property at the expense of those without, you have led a disordered life.
If you gain the whole world and lose your soul, you have led a disordered life.
In other words, having the right priorities matters.
In the Genesis story of Jacob and Esau, we see how having the wrong priorities play out.
The easy thing to highlight is the ludicrous deal Esau makes for some stew. You see, Jacob and Esau are twins, but Esau was born first so he has the ‘birthright’. And in ancient cultures, this was everything: the first born male inherited the lion's share or the entirety of the family fortune.
And he traded his inheritance for a bowl of soup. Which is the dumbest move we could imagine. No bowl of soup is worth millions of dollars. Yet Esau didn’t have the right priorities, which is born out of not rightly understanding or valuing what matters.
In this short narrative we learn that Esau is a man who wants what he wants. He’s a man ruled by his desires, and whichever desire happens to be on top is the one that wins, damn the cost.
And in this case, it cost him everything. Because Esau’s life was disjointed. Esau’s desire was in the driver's seat.But humans are not meant to live with our desires on the steering wheel. Our will, that part of ourselves that can adjudicate between options and consider what ought to be done is meant to be the driver, and our desires should be beholden to our will. That’s a rightly ordered life.
But that wasn’t the case with Esau, and because his will was dominated by his desire, he sold his birthright for a bowl of soup.
And before we chuckle at how ludicrous someone like Esau is, let’s take a look at our lives. Because many of us are in similar or identical boats as Esau.
Many or most of us live lives shaped and driven by our desires, pleasures, and comfort.
Buy that new car or toy and that will grant you happiness and a sense of achievement.
Go on that vacation and spoil yourself and that will give you the peace you crave.
Open that incognito tab on your browser and that will give you pleasure without cost.
And we trade away the life God offers us for the fraudulent happiness and success of material comfort, illusory peace found in indulgence, and base pleasures that cause a division in our families and silence the voice of God in our lives.
Our priorities are off and we trade away the life and love of God for soup, everyday.
And it gets more serious. Because there’s no easier person to lure away from an honest faith than a person driven by desire. Just look at Jacob,
Esau isn’t the only one making mistakes, though it’s easy to overlook Jacob in the light of Esau’s cartoonish decision.
You see, Jacob had been promised by God that it was he, not Esau, who would have the birthright. In a sense, it was already his. All Jacob had to do was live his life in confident trust that no matter what things looked like, he would receive what God had promised.
But he doesn’t do that.
He schemes and plots to take the birthright by his own design rather than by patient trust in the promise of God. His desire for control of his life pushes him to act in devious ways to attempt to gain what was already his by the word of God.
And if that isn’t a mirror, I don’t know what is.
How many of us hear and accept the promise of grace and love found in Jesus and then immediately after say things like “all that matters is that you’re a good person.”
So what ultimately matters is being a good person or the grace and love of God? Because you can’t have both. They can’t both be the foundation of your existential and ethical equanimity.
If your ultimate peace is found in your good works, then it’s about you being in control. You do good deeds and you negotiate your daily peace and heavenly reward with your actions. You’re a soup trader, secure in the fact that you’ve negotiated your way into God’s good graces.
“I’m basically a good person, I do my bit of good so God owes me x” where x stands for health, wealth, long life, heaven, etc.
What’s sad about this is that, like Jacob, we’re trying to trade on what God has already given us in Jesus Christ. All we have to do is trust in him.
Instead, we end up drowning in a puddle of our own making, just like Esau. Because, spoiler alert: this deal he makes with Esau doesn’t go well for him. It ends up with running for his life from his stronger brother and living in exile. He ends up with the birthright as God promised, but he suffers a lot on the journey there. A journey that didn’t have to be that way except for his decisions.
Same for us. As followers of Jesus, in him we have been promised and given all we need not only to live fulfilled lives in the now but a promise that life and love is found beyond the gates of death. That all we’ve lost is returned to us, far more beautiful for having been lost and then found.
But we trade this for creature comforts. We ignore the promise for pleasure seeking in the now because we don’t trust that God holds our future.
And we negotiate for God’s goodness because ‘being a good person’ keeps us in control. And it’s better to be in control than to live in the vulnerability of the truth: that if someone treated us the way that we consistently treat others and God, we wouldn't think that person good at all. And we’d be right.
Both Jacob and Esau had a disordered life. Desire for immanent satisfaction of pleasure or control dominating the will. But for us, we must resist this arrangement. We must take the will, the part of ourselves that discerns between right and wrong, and give it to God. As that famous hymns says,
Take my will, and make it thine;
it shall be no longer mine;
take my heart, it is thine own;
it shall be thy royal throne.
It’s not just a song, it’s a prayer. To ask God to rearrange our priorities to have His heart and mind be ours as well. To value what God values. To love as God loves.
And if you pray this prayer and ask God to come into your life and order it rightly, your life will change.
You might still buy that car, but it won’t be the sign of your achievements. That will be reserved for what God has done in your life because Jesus went to the cross in your stead. This will gift you not temporary happiness, but Joy that withstands the harshest suffering.
You might still go on vacations, but the decision of when and where you take them will be guided by what God is doing in your life and the community you serve because true peace is found in being the hands in feet of Jesus as a priority and way of life.
And you’ll kick the evil of pornography to the curb. It just won’t have any room in a life lived loving God and truly loving others.
Most beautifully, in your good deeds there won’t be a hint of resume building, just actions as the outpouring of gratitude to the one who saved you from death.
The life God offers is more than we could make, more than we could find in our pleasures.
So much more.
Let’s consider this.
And I hope we together pray and sing,
Take my life, and let it be
consecrated, Lord, to thee;
take my moments and my days,
let them flow in ceaseless praise.