Most every child knows that once upon a time there was a poor widow, who had a son named Jack. Jack was tasked with taking the family’s precious cow to market in the hope that a good price could be had, so the family could eat. And what does Jack do? He trades the cow for a handful of beans, which the peddler tells him are magic.
For those in the know, the story works out well in the end, but in reality such trades seldom work out well. As a case in point, I was recently discussing the story of Jacob with one of my classes. We soon came the the incident in Genesis 25: 27-34:
“Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. Isaac loved Esau, because he ate of his game; but Rebekah loved Jacob. Once when Jacob was boiling pottage [soup or stew], Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red pottage, for I am famished!” (Therefore his name was called Edom. Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me first.”So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way (RSV).”
Esau traded the family inheritance (sound familiar?) for beans (well lentils). His birthright for an immediate fix. And did he get a wonderful bean stock, and giant’s treasure in exchange for his instant gratification? No. In fact he merely ended up “despising his birthright.”
My students were quick to announce “That’s stupid.” Yet, while they can see Esau’s folly, they fail to see that our own modern life-style is based on the same philosophy. Instant credit, get rich quick schemes, celebrity envy, and ever increasing “shortcuts to the happier you,” are everywhere. We are bombarded with messages that tell us we need only do X, Y, or Z, and our lives will be fulfilling, and happy ever after. But these are so often just disguised consumerism.
People (collectively) shy away from the hard grind and delayed gratification, dismissing them as “Pie in the Sky,” and proclaiming that “jam tomorrow” is not for me.
We people of faith, however, know that present happiness and future reward are not mutually exclusive. Jesus said in John 10:10b: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” This is not pie in the sky, but joy now through love, fellowship and shared purpose with God and our brethren. It also means a hope that is eternal, John 14: 2 tells us there is is a place prepared for us; but the life there begins here below.
Forget the beans (and lentils), the family fortune is already ours.