First Mennonite Church
August 9, 2015
The Journey in Conflict: Snapshots of Reconciliation
Texts: Genesis 33:1-17; Romans 12: 9-21
Let me begin by making a brief comment on our New Testament passage for today. Paul’s words in the last part of Romans chapter 12 and the whole of chapter 13 are instructs about the relationship between Christians and our non-Christian family members, neighbors, co-workers, and everyone who is not a believer. In last part of Romans 12, Paul acknowledges the believer might have difficulty when trying to resolve differences and conflicts with his non-Christian friends. In verse 18 of chapter 12, Paul says, If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. The conditional phrase Paul uses to introduce this instruction, “If it is possible,” reveals that living in peace might not always be possible. That is because Christian and non-Christians do not always operate with the same value system or principles. Christians should conduct their lives in the way Christ teaches, but this is not necessarily the case for non-believers. Another reason could be because reconciliation always involves both parties in the conflict to be willing to come to resolve their differences.
Therefore, in the phrase Paul uses, he indicates that there will be occasions in which the differences between believers and non-believers will not be possible to reconcile. The attempt, however, at living in peace is essential for us Christians and we must pursue it. In the letter to the Hebrews we are called to “pursue peace with everyone” (Hebrews 12:14). From Paul’s perspective, peace between Christians and their non-Christian neighbors relies heavily on the Christian believer. And there are many reasons why this is so. The first and foremost reason why living in peace with our neighbors should begin with us believers is because we are followers of Christ, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6); Jesus is the Lord of peace (2Thes. 3:16). Jesus said to his disciples, and to us by extension, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives (John 14:27). Another reason is because peace is fruit of God’s Spirit in us (Galatians 5:22). We cannot expect non-believers to have received this gift. Therefore, when it comes to living in peace with our neighbors, much of the responsibility to live with them in peace depends on us. We are followers of the Prince of peace. We are the ones who God has endowed with the presences of his peace through the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. Jesus said we are blessed because we are peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). This passage in Romans should remind us that living peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness (1Tim 2:2) depends on us by pursuing peace with everyone.
Now let us to go our Old Testament passage to start at our sub-topic of “snapshots of reconciliation”. In this sub-topic series, I want us to take a look at least three snapshots or portraits of reconciliation.
In Genesis 27, Jacob cheated his father, Isaac, in order to get the blessing he intended to give Esau, his firstborn child. Esau vowed that once Isaac dies, he would kill his brother Jacob for cheating on him and his father. Under the instructions of Rebekah, Jacob fled to the land of Paddan-aram where Jacob spends several years. There Jacob married two sisters, daughters of his uncle Laban. Jacob became rich after some 20 years of hard work and ingenuity (Genesis 31:38). After these many years of fleeing Esau, Jacob decided to return home. In a vision, God promised Jacob a safe return and Jacob gathered together everything he had and set out to return to Canaan.
Jacob is a good example of what usually happens when there is conflict. Jacob fled far away from his brother. Fleeing is a natural response to conflict. Most people who are in conflict avoid each other. They keep their distance, either because they want to avoid getting hurt again or simply because they cannot tolerate being close to the person they are in conflict with.
After 20 years Jacob decides to come back home for the first time. Despite those many years, fresh in the mind of Jacob were the words of threat from his brother Esau. Jacob will have to come face to face with his brother whom he had cheated of his father’s blessing. Jacob was terrified that he sought God’s blessing and guidance. On the night before Jacob met with Esau again, Jacob has a vision and on that night, according to Genesis 32, 22 and following, he fought with a man, who blessed Jacob.
The following morning, Jacob set out to meet his brother Esau. He organized his caravan in such a way that would allow the survival of some of his family. Jacob was at the head of the caravan; behind him were the women servants with their children. Behind the maids and their children were Leah and her children, and at the very end were Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel and his beloved child, Joseph. “If Esau comes to one of the company and destroys it, then the company that is left will escape,” Jacob thought (Gen. 32:8).
There is real fear of not knowing how the other person will respond when attempting to reconcile. Despite the fear of the unknown, reconciliation will only happen when the parties take the risk of turning around and come face to face with each other. If conflict causes flight, reconciliation causes the turn around. Turning around is very important for reconciliation. The two parties involved have to agree on coming face to face.
When Jacob saw his brother Esau coming with his four hundred men with him, Jacob became terribly afraid. As the two brothers came near each other, Jacob went by approaching his brother bowing to the ground seven times. Jacob wanted to convey a clear message that he was coming in peace and that he acknowledged his wrongful deed. He was repentant and was asking to be forgiven by his brother.
When people come face to face with each other to reconcile there is trepidation. On one occasion, I served as mediator to two families who had been in conflict for some time. These two families had been very close friends. In fact, children from these two families had even married. Some kind of miscommunications between the two families caused the conflict. The nervousness and anxiety were obvious to notice in the faces of these families facing each other. After they agreed to the process of the conversation, each side took time to give its version of what had happened and how the problem had affected that family. Each side heard first hand from each other how the family viewed the problem. Each side committed to do its part to solve and prevent the problem from continuing or repeating itself. At the end of our discussion the anxiety and fear reflected in the faces of these family members were gone. But the fact is that the encounter between the parties in conflict is not easy. There are times when a mediator is needed to help in the process of reconciliation. This is especially important when there is a sense of unbalanced power between the parties in conflict. In interpersonal conflicts this unbalance of power might be between someone who has more formal education while the other person does not. The unbalance of power can be between a domineering husband and his wife, or a church leader and another member.
Again, Jacob was afraid to meet his brother. He therefore send him caravans with gifts to appease Esau. But on the day they met each other, Jacob approached his brother by bowing several times before him as they came near to each other. Bowing down can indicate humility or the attitude of submission, but it can also be done to convey the message that “I am not worthy enough to see your face.” Yet, we are told that Esau ran towards Jacob, embraced him and threw himself over the shoulder of his younger brother and wept. Esau’s gesture of forgiveness speaks volumes. We are not told what had happened to Esau before he went to meet his younger brother because all we know is that he had decided to kill Jacob. And Jacob was fully aware about the seriousness of his brother’s intent. Yet, at the encounter, Esau seem to have had a complete change of heart toward his brother. And that spells out what happens in reconciliation. A change of heart occurs when people decide to make peace between themselves.
Esau’s change of heart, from a desire to take revenge to a welcoming embrace, and from a hateful heart to a cry of joy was beyond what Jacob had expected. Jacob had hope for at least the survival of some of his family, but to his surprise he found a completely changed Esau. It was all these gestures of kindness and grace that led Jacob to exclaim, “For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably.”
Once again, reconciliation enables us to see the face of God in the other person who has wronged us or whom we have hurt. Before reconciliation takes place, we see the person as the problem or the reason for our pain. Reconciliation brings us “back to be in council” with one another and especially those who have wronged us or those we have wronged. Reconciliation happens when grace is extended to us or when we extend grace.
But there is something we should take note of in the reconciliation between Esau and Jacob. We would have hoped that once these two brothers had made peace with each other that they would stay together forever. Yet, once the reconciliation took place, Jacob insisted of not going along with his brother. The two brothers parted ways and settled away from each other.
This means that not always after a reconciliation will there be unity again. Sometimes despite the fact that people get reconciled, they might still remain apart. That does not mean that their reconciliation was not genuine or that their words of forgiveness was not true. It simply means that reconciliation tears down the wall of enmity that divides the party in conflict.
In Genesis 35:28, we are told that when Isaac died, both Esau and Jacob came together to bury their father. This indicates that the grievance between these two brothers was indeed worked out on that day they met. Jacob’s bowing to the ground several times indicated his true repentance. Esau’s welcoming embrace and tears signaled the profound transformation of heart that occurred to him. Esau’s graceful acceptance of Jacob displayed the face of God to a former enemy. Esau’s and Jacob’s encounter is an amazing portrait of reconciliation. Amen!