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And the Lord said to Jacob, Return to the land of thy father, and to thy family, and I will be with thee. And Jacob sent and called Lea and Rachel to the plain where the flocks were. And he said to them, I see the face of your father, that it is not toward me as before, but the God of my father was with me. And ye too know that with all my might I have served your father. But your father deceived me, and changed my wages for the ten lambs, yet God gave him not power to hurt me. If he should say thus, The speckled shall be thy reward, then all the cattle would bear speckled; and if he should say, The white shall be thy reward, then would all the cattle bear white. So God has taken away all the cattle of your father, and given them to me. And it came to pass when the cattle conceived and were with young, that I beheld with mine eyes in sleep, and behold the he-goats and the rams leaping on the sheep and the she-goats, speckled and variegated and spotted with ash-coloured spots. And the angel of God said to me in a dream, Jacob; and I said, What is it? And he said, Look up with thine eyes, and behold the he-goats and the rams leaping on the sheep and the she-goats, speckled and variegated and spotted with ash-coloured spots; for I have seen all things that Laban does to thee. I am God that appeared to thee in the place of God where thou anointedst a pillar to me, and vowedst to me there a vow; now then arise and depart out of this land, depart into the land of thy nativity, and I will be with thee. And Rachel and Lea answered and said to him, Have we yet a part or inheritance in the house of our father? Are we not considered strangers by him? for he has sold us, and quite devoured our money. All the wealth and the glory which God has taken from our father, it shall be ours and our children’s; now then do whatsoever God has said to thee. – Genesis 31:3-16
In fourteen years, God has given Jacob both domestic happiness and material success, despite all the efforts of Laban, his crafty father-in-law, to cheat him. The Lord has demonstrated, once again, that man’s cleverness is powerless against His wisdom and His will. God willed to make Jacob a great patriarch in His plan of salvation for mankind, and He has acted according to His will.
Jacob’s new status as a great householder gives him what today we call “financial freedom”: he is his own master, not beholden to an employer or creditor who can take the bread out of his mouth at any moment. God alone, the Master of wind, weather, the tides of warring nations, and the health of man and beast, can now give or take away his prosperity. He has obtained his freedom, however, not by going around or against God’s will, but by fulfilling it. He has done his part in the plan of salvation; he has conformed his will to the will of God.
Jacob’s earthly wealth provides a typos,a prophetic image, of the true wealth the Lord wants to give us, new and permanent properties of soul and body, gifts of His uncreated grace: pure prayer, harmony with God’s creation, lasting peace of heart – all the joys of friendship with God. Jacob’s earthly freedom provides a prophetic image of the eternal freedom God intends for us, the freedom of the sons of God: freedom from sin, the devil, death, and hell. We must conform our wills to the will of God, and we will become free.
A fatally mistaken idea about freedom grips the minds of men, who equate freedom with the permission to disobey God and get away with it. They want to make their own rules and create their own reality. It does not seem to occur to them that the further they go in this direction, the more miserable they become. This present misery only faintly presages what is in store for them. What is doubtless going to happen to them after they die, apart from an unrevealed miracle of God’s mercy upon which no one can rely, is something we cannot – and would prefer not – to imagine.
Mentored by Satan, men mistakenly imagine that the permission to do evil is inherent in having a will, in being free and rational creatures, but it is not. Our natural will is most free when conformed completely to God’s will; we are most ourselves, most free, most rational, and possessed of will in its ultimate degree, when we do God’s will at every moment. What men mistakenly call “free will” is what St. Maximus the Confessor identifies as the “gnomic” will – a diseased condition of the will based on ignorance, conflicting opinions, and moral weakness, the result of the Fall. It is this condition of the will that we experience every day when our choice wavers between good and evil, between God’s Law and the law of sin and death.
We overcome the stress and misery of this wavering, uncertain state by unrelenting work on ourselves. Yes, we obtain the glorious freedom of the sons of God by God’s gift, but also we must labor. We find an example in Jacob, who did indeed receive all as gift from God but also was not idle. Last week we recalled his labors while chanting the Great Canon:
In privation Jacob the Patriarch endured the burning heat by day and the frost by night, making daily gains of sheep and cattle, shepherding, wrestling, and serving, to win his two wives. By the two wives, understand action and knowledge in contemplation. Leah is action, for she had many children; and Rachel is knowledge, for she endured great toil. And without toil, O my soul, neither action nor contemplation will succeed. – from Ode Four of the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete
May the sweetness of Holy Pascha that we will soon enjoy give us a taste of the eternal wealth and freedom that cannot be taken away. May it encourage us to serve the Lord in active virtue and find rest in Him through prayer. Let us conform our wills to His holy, peaceful, and perfect will, and we will find glorious rest, the freedom of the sons of God.
This commentary was taken from The Eternal Sacrifice: The Genesis Readings for Great Lent by Fr. Steven Allen. You can order a copy from Lulu at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FrStevenAllen