Life doesn’t always work out the way we’d like it. The kingdom of God is like a man who woke up after his wedding in bed with his wife’s sister! What do we do when we are surprised by the unexpected or devastated by the unwanted? All of us probably have experienced those moments. The tragic and wrenching loss of a loved one; the break up of a relationship; the breakdown of physical or mental health; the loss of employment or the failure of a venture. These are among the ways in which, no matter how conscientious we might be, life just does not deliver what we wish.
Given the choice, most of us would probably prefer a “what you see is what you get” kind of world. When we ask a question we expect an honest answer. When we work hard, we expect the results we deserve. We avoid hidden agendas. Stability, order, predictability, and control make life easier and more manageable.
The problem is that life doesn’t always work that way. In fact, Jesus says that is not even how life works within what he called “the kingdom of heaven”. Real life is like a net dragged through the sea. It pulls up both the good and the bad. At other times, it’s like a field that you see day after day. It’s always there and not much changes. It appears just an ordinary field like any other field except that it is not. Treasure is lying below the surface of that field, buried deep, and waiting to be discovered.
It reminds me of a delightful BBC comedy mini-series Claudia and I discovered on Netflix called “The Detectorists”. This follows the ordinary lives of two eccentric metal detectorists, who spend their days plodding along ploughed tracks and open fields, hoping to disturb the tedium by unearthing the fortune of a lifetime. The most they come up with are a few old coins and lots of bottle caps. Meanwhile, unknown to them, a trove of ancient Saxon treasure is lying below the ordinary soil of that field, buried deep, and waiting to be discovered.
Most of us have lived long enough to know that, despite our desires and hopes, we do not always get what we want. The good and the bad, the dirt and the treasure, are never far from each other. Nothing is quite as it first appears. What you see is not always what you get. Sometimes you choose Rachel and you wake up with Leah. That’s when we have to make a decision about our faith and how, or even whether, we will move forward.
Can we trust that there is more happening in life than we can see or understand? Can we look at a mustard seed, the smallest of seeds, and see contained within it the greatest of shrubs, a tree in which birds nest? Or is our faith limited to what we see here and now, what can be verified by facts and logic, to what fits our desires and expectations? That is the dilemma facing many who struggle to make ends meet. That faith question is the challenge for everyone who has ever thought life was one way and discovered it was another.
That’s where Jacob finds himself in today’s story from the Book of Genesis. If you were here two week’s ago, you will recall how Jacob bought his older brother’s inheritance for a bowl of lentil stew. Then, how he and his mother Rebekah deceived Isaac, Jacob’s father and Rebekah’s husband, into giving Jacob the blessing that rightfully belonged to Jacob’s older brother Esau. After all that, Jacob fled for his life to Laban, Rebekah’s brother. Jacob travelled into a new land in search of his uncle Laban. It was when he paused to refresh himself at a well, that Jacob encountered Laban’s younger and beautiful daughter, Rachel. It was love at first sight! They kissed and he proposed.
This morning’s reading continues this saga. Jacob and his uncle worked out a deal. Jacob would serve Laban seven years for the right to marry Rachel. At the end of those seven years Laban prepared a great wedding feast. Laban, however, knew what had happened to his nephew Esau, and was not going to allow much the same thing to happen to Leah, his oldest daughter. It was not right for the younger daughter to be given in marriage before the firstborn. Laban knew this and, more importantly, so did Leah. Laban was not going to allow Rachel to supplant Leah in the manner by which Jacob had supplanted his older brother, Esau.
Laban prepared a great feast. After the wedding Jacob went to meet Rachel in the tent to consummate the marriage, only to discover the next morning he’d been lying in bed with Leah! The tables had turned. Jacob, the one who had deceived and fled, found himself deceived and trapped.
Sometimes, though, things are not as they seem. Who would have ever thought that the soap opera stories of a dysfunctional families, brokenness, lies and deception, unmet expectations and hopes would become sacred stories? This is true not just for Jacob and Esau, Isaac and Rebekah, Laban, Leah, and Rachel but for every one of us.
Each of us has a personal story of family dysfunction, sorrow, loss, despair, and brokenness; stories of how things did not work out for us, sometimes through our own fault and other times simply by chance or the circumstances of life. Those stories are probably the last place we’d turn to when seeking to discern God’s presence. They’re not generally where we expect to find the kingdom of heaven.
What you see, however, is not always what you get. The rabbi Jesus invites us to discover the kingdom of God is somehow mixed into our stories of dysfunction, brokenness, sorrow, and despair. He said that it’s like yeast mixed in with three measures of flour. You can’t see it or separate it out but it is there, working, leavening, and transforming the flour into something new and alive.
Jesus said the divine kingdom of eternal life and value is not beyond us, but it is here within our grasp. It is waiting to be discerned in the present moment. It’s seeds lie waiting to germinate within each human heart. Sure religion and true Christianity will not provide instantaneous solutions or explanations for the existential dilemmas we face in human life. We trust in divine and human redemption and live in hope.
You may well ask, “Why then are we here?” Surely we are here to follow in the way of Jesus. It is here that we identify with his life. It is here that we seek to faithfully support one another in our search for meaning in this lifetime of challenges and questions. Even when we choose Rachel and we get Leah, the leaven of life, the leaven of love, the leaven of God’s elusive presence and divine healing, is working within us to transform and make new our lives. What we see is not all that we get. The leavening power of God within us can do more than we can ask or imagine.
The Church of the Holy Saviour, Waterloo