“Now Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a simple man, dwelling in tents. Now Isaac loved Esau because he ate his venison, but Rebecca loved Jacob. Then Jacob cooked a stew; and Esau came in from the field, and was weary. So Esau said to Jacob, ‘Let me taste this red stew, for I am exhausted.’ Therefore his name was called Edom. But Jacob said to Esau, ‘Sell me your birthright today.’ Esau replied, ‘Look, I am about to die. What good then is this birthright to me?’ Then Jacob said, ‘Swear to me today.’ So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob.” -Genesis 25:27-33
Consider the ramifications of this biblical event. Esau, the first-born, saw little value in his birthright. So in a moment of weakness, he chose to satiate his physical appetite rather than value what his birthright entitled him to. When he later sought the blessing which conveyed the birthright, it had been stolen from him and he could not retrieve it back.
Like Esau, you also have a birthright. As a Christian you were endowed with a birthright at baptism. At the font, you received your birthright as a child of God, and were given a deposit to ensure your inheritance: the Holy Ghost.
Consider again what Esau sold. “The blessing of the firstborn gave the eldest son a double portion of his father’s inheritance. He would also become the ruler and head over his brethren upon his father’s death and be responsible for the welfare and administration of the family. All this foreshadowed the Lord’s incarnation as the Firstborn of the Father and ruler and head over the Church. Through His incarnation, He would secure the Church’s eternal inheritance.” (From the Orthodox Study Bible)
In addition, Esau relinquished the role of seed bearer. No longer would the line of Christ go through him or his offspring. God would not work through Esau to bring forth salvation to the world. This also meant the Esau was, in essence, cut-off from the family line.
Hebrew’s 12:15-17 states, “Looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be a fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.”
Esau is considered a profane fornicator because he was unfaithful to God. He despised his birthright and became a man ruled by his fleshly desires and worldly treasures. Though his father loved him, he despised his father and the birthright he was to receive. He was a fool.
But are we modern Christians any different?
During the great wars, the world witnessed the rise of totalitarian dictators. The rise was due to the direct influence of Marxist socialism, the chief aim of which is communism; the most oppressive form of humanist philosophy that claims total ownership of the men. The literal meaning of totalitarianism is “total ownership of man - body and soul.”
During this time, the Archbishop of Western New York, Fulton J. Sheen, addressed this threat. He asked, how did these totalitarian states get the souls of the people? He followed with this answer: “It was principally because the people abandoned their souls by no longer considering them as God’s. The State then said: If you do not want your souls, we will take them; if you do not want to educate them for the spiritual, we will educated them for the race, the nation, or the class.”
Today our choice is the same. If we find little value in our eternal birthright then we will sell it for a bowl of lentils. Surely, none of us would literally sell our soul for beans. But each time we prioritize recreation over church attendance, or binge-watch Netflix while neglecting our Bible, we are choosing worthless beans over an eternal birthright.
We must recognize that the world seeks total ownership of our souls. Church involvement no longer provides any social advantages. In fact, it can be downright inconvenient. But God asks His people to think critically, “Behold I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). The Bible also warns that the Man of Perdition will have gifts in his right hand, but we must understand that in his left hand will be our demise . . . which will come upon us one small compromise at a time.
So I will ask again, what is your soul worth to you? How can you keep from compromising your birthright? Here are a few suggestions:
Remember your oath of confirmation, when you promised to “reject the world, the flesh, and the devil.” As your priest, I am always available to help in any way I can. I am honored to do it. The devil is subtle, therefore we must be ever vigilant.
The Very Rev. Donald Sackett
Rector St. Andrew’s Anglican Church
I have a dear friend who grew up in the Roman Catholic Church. His parents and siblings were all good Catholics. He had gone through all the catechism and training that any good Catholic would undergo. When he grew up he married a good Catholic woman and had good Catholic children who were also trained up in the Catholic Church.
Building a House of Cards
Then one day, my friend found himself in a position that he had never bargained for. You see my friend had been, and still is, a very successful business man. In his career he was always on top. In his private ventures he always achieved his goals. He was adept at using his charm, good looks and intellect to his advantage, and he got away with a lot. But in his late 30’s, his seemingly unlimited success created a house of cards that came tumbling down on top of him.
When this happened, my friend looked up and cried out to God, this God of his youth, of his parents and his wife, and he begged for help. God answered his prayer, helped him and changed his life. But the way in which God moved in this man’s life forced him to re-examine his faith.
You see to my friend, the God of his understanding was a distant God whom he did not really know. The religion he had been brought up in was, to him, about saying the right prayer, and doing the right religious calisthenics: stand to sing, sit to listen, kneel to pray. He went through the motions for decades but he never really made an effort to know more about God. He had practiced religion his whole life without ever allowing it to penetrate his heart. To him, the faith was meaningless.
Or was it?
“Either a person will side with the world and its pleasures (and so enter hell by the wide gate), thereby realizing his personal pleasures and losing himself endless entertainment and enjoyments, or he will side with God and His love (and so enter the narrow gate of heaven), thereby realizing holiness and toil. Such a person will find joy in life with God.” - Matthew the Poor
Spiritual Senility = Familiar Indifference
What my friend did not understand was that his heart longed for the pleasures of the world and not for God. My friend had fallen into what is known as spiritual senility. This condition is not brought on by age but rather by a neglect of the things of God, or a familiar indifference to them. Rather than exerting his energy to know and serve the God he’d been taught about all his life, he chose to direct all his energies toward the pleasures and conquests of this world.
And while my friend happened to be Roman Catholic, we've seen spiritual senility in every church we've ever visited. It's a spiritual sickness that affects all denominations and all peoples equally.
To Him the Catholic faith that he grew up with was just a familiar routine. It was a ritual that served him only in as much as it furthered his personal and business goals, of which truly knowing God was not one. Matthew the Poor describes it like this:
“Spiritual senility means that people’s ears are tired of hearing the constant calls for repentance and change of heart. In such cases, the preacher cries out to the listeners as though they were dead and motionless bodies, while each person looks at his neighbor as though his neighbor were the intended target and not he himself. Spiritual senility also means that people’s eyes are tired of reading the Bible and spiritual books. The words stand on the page cold and lifeless, and the reader’s eyes are scarcely able to pay attention and resist the approach of sleep. Spiritual senility means the heart has become stone like, losing the ability to become inflamed by the Spirit, losing the ability to feel and respond to the work of grace. Such a person stands in church for prayer and can do nothing but yawn, yawn, yawn, to the point that he becomes a laughing stock to those around him. Meanwhile, he feels and understands nothing of what is happening, as though he were not even there.”
Does this describe your spiritual life this lent? Who among us cannot see bits of ourselves in these words? I pray that we heed his warning and re-examine our motivations. I pray that our spiritual vigor, tamped down by a global pandemic, would be revived. I pray that the fire of our first love, Jesus, would be rekindled in our hearts, that celebrating the Mass would be a joy, and that the many cares and comforts of this world would no longer distract us from serving Christ and his Church.
Rekindling the Fire of Our Hearts
The worship and teachings of the Church have power to save and change us, but only if we choose to allow the practice of religion to penetrate our hearts. Those who spend their energies running after the knowledge of God will indeed be rewarded, as Hebrew’s states: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). We must pray and ask God to rekindle his holy fire in our hearts.
As our Lord stated, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). The earthly things that so easily attract us are fleeting. God knows we need things: food, clothing, housing, etc… but the priority should be God’s kingdom and the knowledge thereof. This is what will ultimately satisfy the longings of your soul and make you complete and at peace.
I hope you will join me with renewed spiritual vigor at any or all of the upcoming services:
Rector St. Andrew’s Church