Jacob, Esau and a structure of oppression
Proper 10A Genesis 25:19-34, Romans 8:1-11 Matthew 13:1-9,18-23
In the first reading, Isaac’s eldest son, Esau, sells his birthright to his younger brother because he is hungry, and his younger brother, Jacob, has a bowl of stew.
Selling a lifetime of power and wealth for a single bowl of stew is a bad bargain. Oddly, Esau doesn’t hesitate or complain that the price is too high. Why? Perhaps because he has no intention of relinquishing his birthright. And perhaps because he knows that no one, including those who witness the “sale” of the birthright for stew, will expect him to.
Jacob and Esau’s bargain took place in the context of an established patriarchal system. Whether Esau sells his birthright or not, he will still be the eldest son in a patriarchal system which functions to privilege him and protect him and insure that his father’s power and wealth will pass to him as the eldest son. Always. No matter what. That is the way things are and the way things should be. Period.
The Jacob and Esau story is about brothers, but it is also about a structure of oppression called patriarchy.
In America, we live with a structure of oppression called racism or white supremacy. Like patriarchy, white supremacy is “a far-reaching system that functions independently from the intentions or self-images of individual actors… [It has] become the default of [our] society and is reproduced automatically.“ Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, at 20-21, Beacon Press, 2018.
We cannot undo the power and injustice of racism and white supremacy until we undertake the work of seeing and understanding how racism and white supremacy work. White people need to see that they are more than the intentional hateful acts of a few outliers. They are social constructs which have been woven into the fabric of our personal lives and our national history. They operate without our awareness and are sustained without any effort on our part unless and until we do the hard work of seeing them and naming them for what they are.
It is a bold statement of faith to say and believe that we can dismantle these structures of oppression. It will not happen quickly or easily. Those who challenge them will need to be sure, using Jesus’ parable of the sower, that the words of God’s Realm are sown in very good soil. (Mtt.13:18-23)