Like many persons, we can be all too wrapped up in the national and international news, and forget our own interior life and personal struggle against sin. As Lent draws near we should consider the sobering story of Jacob and Esau.
Scripture tells us: “And when Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry, and said unto his father, Bless me, even me also, O my father.” Gen. xxvii. 34.
Blessed Newman explains: “Jacob knew the worth of the birthright, though Esau did not; he had faith to discern it. So, when Esau asked for pottage, he said he would give it to Esau in exchange for his birthright; and Esau, caring nothing for the birthright, sold it to Jacob for the mess of food. This was a great sin, as being a contempt of a special gift of God, a gift, which, after his father Isaac, no one in the whole world had but he.”
At the time of Isaac’s death Esau and Jacob sought his blessing. Esau thought he could regain it easily without repentance and humbling himself.
According to Newman, Esau “had hoped to have had his father’s blessing, but Jacob had received it instead. He had thought to regain God’s favour, not by fasting and prayer, but by savoury meat, by feasting and making merry.”
In the letter to the Hebrews, the Sacred Author warns the listeners not to be like Esau whom he calls a “profane person” who sold his birthright and did not seek it back with repentance. [Heb. xii. 15-17.] Newman comments on Esau’s great and bitter cry, the cry of one who has rejected God, and whom God in turn has rejected. It is like the cry of the foolish virgins in the Gospel (Matt. xxv.11, 12) or the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” of lost souls.
“Then shall they call upon Me, but I will not answer; they shall seek Me early, but they shall not find Me.” [Prov. i. 28.]
Newman sees in this sad history a lesson to avoid presumption in claiming a blessing.
“Afterwards, indeed, he did repent, but when it was too late. And I fear such as Esau was of old time, such are too many Christians now. They despise God’s blessings when they are young, and strong, and healthy; then, when they get old, or weak, or sick, they do not think of repenting, but they think they may take and enjoy the privileges of the Gospel as a matter of course, as if the sins of former years went for nothing. And then, perhaps, death comes upon them; and then after death, when it is too late, they would fain repent.”
Many who have been baptized, which is like their birthright, along with the privileges, sell this gift as Adam and Esau did. They are tempted by Satan and the world. They are “profane persons” who despise the great gift of God, their sonship
We should repent while there is still time. It is better to repent and cry now than after death when we cannot repent and escape punishment – like the younger son of the parable of the Prodigal Son who squandered his birthright but returned with deep contrition, and asking to be treated like a servant.
During the season of Lent let us remember and confess our sins. Let us resolve to do acts of penance in atonement for past sins. We should accept any suffering that God sends as a purification for past sins. While the world wishes us to multiply comforts Newman cautions: “you are only postponing, and increasing by postponing, an inevitable chastisement? How do you know, but that, if you will not satisfy the debt of daily sin now, it will hereafter come upon you with interest?”
Consider then, What acts of self-denial, prayer and charity will I live during the season of Lent?