First Mennonite Church
July 5, 2015
The Journey From Conflict to Forgiveness III
Text: Genesis 25: 19-34; John 9:1-12
Being that in this series we want to understand the nature, complexity and dynamics of conflict with the objective of finding ways to resolve interpersonal conflicts, the 25th chapter of Genesis can give us some good examples about how conflicts originate and develop. Therefore, in light of that goal, I would like us to be willing and open-minded to take a look into the various windows of conflict this story is capable to show us.
Rebekah was barren just like was her mother-in-law, Sarah. Isaac, unlike his father Abraham, he did pray about his wife’s condition and we are told that the Lord granted the answer to his prayer. Rebekah conceived. But as soon as the babies inside Rebekah had energy enough to wiggle, they engage in fighting with each other even before their birth. It is useful for us to know that the Hebrew verb used to describe what was happening between the babies and which is translated “struggled together” literally means “smashed” or “crushed” one another. So what Rebekah was feeling was not the simple “kicking” or “squirming” that a baby does inside the womb. It was literally a “crushing fight.” Let us pause here for a moment.
I am sure you know of babies who were born into family with ongoing conflicts. There are many babies that have been born and are being born into conflictive or dysfunctional families. In the town I grew up, I know of a family where the father was known to be a lover of the belongings of others. He was a thief. One of his sons became a murderer. There are drug addicts, thieves, and violent people in this family all the way to the third and fourth generation. When a child is born in such unhealthy family environment, what option does the child have about his or her upbringing? What prospects are there for that child to be raised in a healthy, loving and constructive environment? Conflict and trouble are almost bound to become second in nature to the child.
On the other hand, it is most likely that a child would be born into a loving family, but still that is not a guarantee that the child will grow up conflict-free. There are many other factors for conflict.
Now let us go back to Genesis again.
Pregnancy resulted difficult for Rebekah because as the babies continued to develop they also continued to fight inside her. And just like we are told that Isaac prayed and that the Lord answered his prayer, Rebekah also prayed about her difficult pregnancy. She lamented in prayer before the Lord about the already conflictive relationship her unborn children have. The NIV does not have what Rebekah inquired about before the Lord. This is what the NRSV and some other version have: The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” (v.22) Rebekah wondered if motherhood is to be caught between siblings fighting each other, then what joy there is to life. If motherhood is to have your insides or heart ripped, why live, then? Rebekah was quite on target with her concern. It is very possible that nobody hurts more than a mother when her children are in disagreement, let alone to be fighting each other. I wonder how many mothers are out there, or even here today, that are hurting because their children are in conflict with each other. I wonder how many mothers are there who cannot have their children together around the table without fighting. It is so sad, but that is the reality in many families.
Genesis 25 can teach us something very special about prayer also. Isaac prayed and so did Rebekah. This couple believed that everything in life, no matter what the issue might be, can be brought before God in prayer. If something is of human concern, we can be sure it concerns God as well. Therefore, let us bring before God, in prayer, anything that concerns us. If something concerns you, be sure that it also concerns God.
God heard Rebekah’s prayer and he answered:
“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.”
When Yahweh responded to Rebekah’s inquiry, God did not make pronouncements about what should become of the twin brothers and their descendants. God simply described an already existing situation in the womb of Rebekah. God only described what he saw according to his foreknowledge about what would become of the brothers. God’s words to Rebekah, however, have commonly been interpreted in light of Paul’s interpretation found Romans 9:13. In Romans 9, Paul quotes Malachi 1:2, 3, and Psalm 47:4 where the words of God to Rebekah are interpreted as God having preference for Jacob and rejection for Esau. (In the following sermon I will show how Rebekah took this revelation about her twins and what she did to possible help it come to reality.) Again, let us pause here for a moment.
Pregnancy usually brings the joy of a new member in the family. It is easy to sing Psalm 139, verses 13-16 about the marvelous way our body was formed inside the womb of our mother. Psalm 139 praises God for checking out his list as each and every part of our body was developing. When a baby is born, we marvel at the miniature body parts and how these, regardless of how tiny they are, function so flawlessly. Often, when we hold a newborn baby’s tiny hands, we exclaim, “Oh, what a miracle!” Every perfect baby that is born reminds us of Psalm 139 and we joyfully join the psalmist in praise:
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well (v. 14).
But in life we know that the birth of a baby does not always bring marvel or forthright praise. For those parent whose baby is born with some developmental, genetic, or physical problem, they often wonder where was God during the pregnancy period. It is hard on parents when their child is born with some developmental disability, genetic disorder, or some type of deformity.
According to a recent survey, eighty percent of marriages of parents of children with autism end in divorce. There is a high divorce rate among parents of special-needs children. It usually happens that when a special-needs child is born, one of the parent is in denial of the problem. The other parent who recognizes the problem, on the other hand, becomes overwhelmed and is the one who takes the initiative in finding help. The uneven commitment at various levels brings conflict, which eventually begins to erode the couple’s relationship.
Issues such as:
- Which of the spouses will take time out from work for the child’s medical needs?
- How much time and resources should go toward meeting the needs of the child?
- Who will provide care?
- Which school is best for the child?
- Who will attend EIP meetings when the child goes to school?
- What plan should be made for the future of the child?
All these and many more questions become unavoidable issues parents must deal with and the toll can be very high. Conflict is likely to rise in such a delicate situation.
But beside this issues, many parents with special-needs children risk neglecting the other children’s emotional needs because they want to provide all possible care their special-needs child needs.
Rebekah’s pregnancy story also brings a deeper question about the difference among our children. When a child is born with some form of disability, parents wonder, why this child? Why did it happen to this one when the other children were born normal? Was it God who determined it to be that way? If indeed God has everything under his control, why then was our child born this way? But again, God’s response to Rebekah can shed some light for us to understand this difficult reality many parents of special-needs children face. In the Genesis account, God did not pronounce what the future lives of the twins should be. In other words, God did not preordain what should happen or what should become of Esau or Jacob. God only described what was already there. And that means that God respects the human condition, physical or genetic make-up and therefore when a child is born, he or she too might share or develop his or her parent’s condition. Sometimes the unexpected happens during pregnancy, which can affect the baby. But the beauty in Rebekah’s pregnancy story was that God description about the struggle inside her was not the end of the story. (We will see more of this next week.)
Parents with special-needs children go through a lot of challenges, but can also enrich the family in so many other ways. Mary and Peter are amazing loving parents. Their first child, a daughter, Emily, was born with severe developmental disabilities. Nathan and Naomi, their two younger children were very gifted and bright children. We admired this family for the way they cared for each and the way they cared for others also. I still remember Peter’s advice to me when we discovered Emmanuel’s deafness. Peter said to me, “Often when I meet people they tell me, ‘God knew that you and Mary were a good parents and therefore he gave you Emily.’” Peter said to me, “When people tell me that, I respond to them with the following: ‘No, it is Emily who has made us the parents we are today.’”
I came to this point to show that conflict can arise from family situations and that conflict is especially more often in families with children with special needs.
Let us go again to the last part of our Genesis passage. I will skip verses 24 to 28. In my next sermon I will take these two verses along with chapter 27.
In verses 29-34 we read of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob for a dish of stew. Once again here is the text:
29 Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30 Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) 31 Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33 Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
Many of you have adult children. And you know the story of each of your children when they left home. Some went to college and never returned home again. Some left when they were married. Others moved due to job opportunities elsewhere. And maybe some moved because they could not stay with you or the other siblings anymore or you could not have them staying with you and the family any longer. That sounds like trouble.
Esau. Esau was an outdoors person. Jacob stayed closer to home. Esau was hungry after a long day out in the fields and when he came Jacob was cooking a delicious red stew. Esau was starving and wanted food even if had to sell his soul. Jacob on the other had never missed an opportunity to advance his cause. He knew what he wanted and he did not mind the means to get to his goal.
Jacob gave food to Esau and Esau gave his birthright for food.
There is a list of verbs that describes what Esau did. Esau sold his birthright, ate, drank, rose, went his way, and despised his birthright. The description about Esau’s actions fit exactly what happens among siblings and parents in conflict. There is nothing as stressful between parents and their children as when a child cannot see beyond satisfying his or her present urges or whims. When a person is lost or lacks clear goals or direction in life, eating, drinking, rising to go their ways and missing the purpose of life are more than enough for constant conflict within a family. These activities and attitude about life describes the life of many young people who lack or disregard direction for their lives. Young people who live this way and have this attitudes make their parents live extremely stressful. There is constant tension and strife between parents and children who have Esau’s character.
But not only Esau’s character makes parents stressful. Jacob’s character is also a character parents wish none of their children have. Parents are also embarrassed of their child who is self-centered and who would not think twice before taking advantage of the ingenious or weak. This characters are also causes for conflict in the family.
For us parents of young children, let us be vigilant over our children’s wellbeing. Let us model before them a godly character. For all of us, let us remember Isaac and Rebekah who were mindful of the power of prayer. Every concern, conflict or praise should be brought before God in prayer. May the Lord bless each family; each home, and each of us today and always. Amen!