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Forgiveness Should Be Easier

I know I am supposed to admire Jacob and love him more than Esau. Jacob is, after all, the father of the children of Israel. He is the man through whom we trace our people’s sacred lineage. And yet, this week, I find myself looking admirably towards his brother Esau.

Jacob deceived his father and stole the birthright from Esau. Jacob then runs away—Esau threatens to kill him after discovering the deception. On the run, Jacob experiences God, marries and builds a large family, experiences God some more and becomes incredibly successful.

We do not know what Esau is doing during these years. Is he nursing a grudge towards Jacob? Is he perseverating about the wrongs done to him? He has every right to be angry. It is true that Jacob lied and stole from him. We learn little about what Esau is thinking. We learn a great deal about Jacob. We read about his dreams and how he wrestles with God. We learn a great deal about his fears. They continue to plague him.

When he realizes that he will see Esau for the first time, he sends messengers ahead to greet Esau. They report that Esau has become wildly successful. Many people work for him. Jacob believes these four hundred men are not a measure of his brother’s success but instead proof that Esau wishes to attack his family and carry out his earlier threat.

Isn’t it remarkable that Esau has become so successful without the first-born blessing? Maybe he did not need the blessing after all. Maybe Jacob needed it more. After dividing his family into two camps, Jacob sends gifts to Esau in the hopes of placating him and earning his forgiveness. But Esau no longer appears angry.

Instead, he appears confident in his success.

In contrast, Jacob is still afraid. His decisions appear guided by his fears. Is he so guilt-ridden that he cannot see that his brother is no longer the dangerous and skilled hunter of their youth?

Does Esau require all these gifts? Are these what effectuate his forgiveness? Again, we do not know.

We do know what he proclaims. We do hear what he says when he and his brother are finally reunited. The first words we read since hearing his now decades old screams that he would kill Jacob are “I have enough.” After hugging and kissing Jacob, and meeting his large extended family, Esau responds to the many gifts offered to him with the words, “I have enough, my brother; let what you have remain yours.” (Genesis 33)

It appears that Esau opened his heart to his brother a long time ago. It appears that he is no longer nursing vengeance. He is overjoyed to see Jacob and meet his family.

I admire Esau because forgiveness comes so easily to him. Jacob struggles with fear. Jacob wrestles with the demons of his deceptions and trickery. These continue to define him.

Esau appears content. He forgives readily. This week he more than Jacob earns my admiration and praise.

Let’s be honest. Forgiveness is really, really hard. For whom does it come so easily?

Then again, if Esau can do it, so can we.