"All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them, blessing each one of them with a suitable blessing." - Genesis 49:28
You often hear around the UCC that in the Bible, God seems to pick the unlikeliest suspects to be Her heroes. Perhaps none less likely than Jacob.
When Jacob was college-age, he committed identity theft, passing himself off as his brother Esau to steal his birthright. On the strength of that birthright he built a small empire: multiple wives and twelve sons, which were the best currency a man could have back then.
A lifetime later, as he neared death, he called those twelve sons to him in order to bless them. At least, the Bible calls what he offered each one of them a blessing, but it sure sounds more like a sentence to me. He called Reuben "unstable," Simeon and Levi killers, Issachar a strong donkey, Asher a viper, and Naphtali a deer—a female deer. He praised Judah's handsome eyes and teeth. And reserved the majority of his words and praise for Joseph (no wonder they all hated him).
He spoke to each son individually, but made sure all the brothers heard exactly what their father thought of them.
It is amazing how children from the same family can turn out so different from one another. We've learned from social science that a lot of who we are comes straight from our genes, but to a degree, our self-image is a result of who our parents say we are—the narratives they reinforce from the get-go.
When parents compare their children, the children don't turn on the parents—they turn on each other. And time does not necessarily heal these wounds. How many of us have hurts and quarrels in our sibling group that have persisted into adulthood?
Our parents may have, likely unknowingly, created the problem, but only we can fix it. It's never too late to heal from our childhoods, and move up the path given to us by God, our first Parent.
God, please help me stop comparing myself to my siblings; it will either make me vain or bitter. Let me do my part to heal any old rifts so that I can have the family You intend. And if I have children of my own, stop me from committing the sin of comparing them. Let my mouth be full of blessings for all, shared privately. Amen.
[Special thanks to the wisdom of Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, authors of Siblings Without Rivalry]
Molly Baskette is Senior Minister at First Church Somerville UCC, in Somerville, Massachusetts.