Friday, December 11, 2009

Preparing for Reconciliation -- Genesis 31:45-47


Then Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. And Jacob said to his kinsmen, “Gather stones.” So they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there by the heap. Now Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed.

Notice that when Laban had finished speaking, Jacob said nothing; at least nothing of significance for the author to have recorded it. Instead, the Bible says he selected a rock and somehow repositioned it upright in such a way that it looked like a pillar. When it comes to relationships, there is a time to talk and a time to say nothing. There is a time to take action and a time to sit still. In what Jacob had heard from Laban, he caught a semblance of an olive twig being extended to him and he decided to accept it. And he did so without insisting on an apology from, or that any form of penalty be imposed on, Laban.

That takes a very big man. Recently I was assisting a party resolve some issues another party had pursued legal assistance with. It was clear that the party I represented had erred on two significant counts. The actions of two individuals from my client group had, and in the case of one, continued to, make matters worse. This apparently was a pattern it seemed on the part of the two negative contributors to this situation. My common-sense human nature told me these two had to incur some personal consequence in addition to apologizing yet once again. I tried to convince myself that this would be for their own protection and personal development, as well as for the good of the party I was representing. Perhaps censure or release from their position in the client’s organization would be appropriate. And then I had to deal with this section of scripture. What was I supposed to learn from this? Could I be a big enough person to simply make my point to the individuals and to the group as to what was done in error, express the consequences to the organization of any such further recurrence, and indicate that we needed their genuine assurance that this would never occur again? Certainly that was what Jacob settled for. I had no choice but to do likewise and leave the matter to God. And the outcomes of such a decision on my part, I believe, will indeed have its rewards – including with those two individuals.

When quarrels occur and peace is being offered, we have a responsibility to accept it, and it is to our benefit. That does not mean we have to work directly with or become bosom buddies with the individual. In today’s legal world, parties who settle their disputes often sign a joint ‘release’ that includes a ‘non-disparagement’ clause. That is they agree that they will not speak negatively of each other, but it does not mean they will have to partner in business or friendship. They live and let live. That is the least we can do.

Jacob simply instructs his own relatives to gather the stones needed to make a heap for the makeshift monument that would serve as a memorial to this covenant Laban was proposing. Once that was completed, everyone sat down and had a meal together. In the culture of the day, as is the case still in many cultures, having a meal together is the ultimate indication of a sealed agreement between the parties. Think of if as having a drink after a deal is signed or having an engagement dinner after a couple promises to marry. Sometimes, even if we may not work or live or be close friends with someone again, we need to take the time to participate in things that go with the peacemaking that we enter in. We do that out of courtesy or respect and we do it to formally communicate to others that we indeed intend to keep our covenant.

It was also traditional for parties to name the place where a covenant was sealed. As you would think, two parties that had come to a major agreement could, if they were really of one mind, agree on a single name for the location. That was the case for Laban and Jacob. They both decided to call the site the ‘witness heap’ -- Laban using the Aramaic word ‘Jegar-sahadutha’ and Jacob the Hebrew word ‘Galeed’. Truly there were many witnesses around to testify to their pact, including the pile of stones themselves. Some of us have gone through similar experiences in life. Perhaps it would have been appropriate for us to have our own ‘witness pile’. As I reflect on this, I think of the host of witnesses that observe the coming together of two people in holy matrimony. They are supposed to, and in fact, often promise to, help keep the two newlyweds together. But alas, too many become distant and uninvolved, often contributing with their apathy, to a broken home. Both making a covenant and being a witness to one is an awesome responsibility.

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