From what Jacob had, he selected a gift for his brother Esau: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. - Genesis 32:13-15 (NIV)
Long ago, Jacob had screwed over his brother Esau, hard. With much trickery and deceit, he’d stolen Esau’s birthright and their father’s blessing. Then he’d run away from the retribution he knew he deserved.
Now he’s on his way back home, about to meet Esau again after many years. He’s feeling bad about what went down, and trying to make things right. The fact that he’s trying to avoid getting killed, as opposed to trying to make things better because it’s the right thing to do, hardly matters. What matters is that he’s actually doing a pretty good job of it.
He doesn’t ever say, “I’m sorry,” so that’s a problem. But he does ask for forgiveness, effectively if not actually. Most importantly, he actually tries to fix the material damage he has done. To replace what he has stolen. To repair the breach with solid materials and not just words. That is to say, he makes reparations.
I’m not totally clear how much wealth all those animals really represented, but I’m clear it’s a whole lot. I don’t know how it compares to what was stolen, especially with compounded interest, but I’m clear it’s more than most people’s attempts at reconciliation come with. Solid, real-world wealth, the kind that can feed families, save lives, provide security through multiple generations.
When there’s been a breach, apologies matter. Words matter. But here’s what Jacob knows, even with all his faults: when the breach is in the form of stolen wealth, wealth is the only thing that can repair it.
Holy One, whenever I screw up, let the reparations I make be sufficient. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is a father, husband, homesteader and preacher living in rural upstate New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.