Updated: Aug 5, 2022
“But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.” (Genesis 33:4)
Next month I will attend my (gasp!) 20-year high school reunion. It will be interesting to see some old friends again for the first time in a decade or two, and “catch up” on where the paths of our lives have led us. Speaking in terms of my career and personal successes, I won’t have anything especially notable to share, other than marriage. Most of my former classmates are married and now have children, and through Facebook I know that many enjoy rewarding jobs and have achieved personal goals, often with significant recognition.
It would be all too easy for me to feel awkward or under some pressure heading into this situation. Human nature, with its focus on pride and self image kicks in, and I could think I needed to put on a face, that I had something to prove after all these years, or that I will be judged in a bad light because my resume doesn’t compare with the others. But the truth is that I will not be out for respect, redemption or affirmation of any kind; I will just be out to have a good time.
I believe that is how God intends all reunions to be – a joyous celebration of life. God desires our constant companionship, and when we actively seek Him through prayer or repentance, it is a reunion of sorts. He takes joy in reunion with us, and shares it to comfort, restore and empower us. We are made whole when we experience His presence, and we feel truly alive.
Some reunions can be awkward or difficult, especially if there is painful history between certain parties that must be faced again, or if the surrounding circumstances are less than ideal, such as a family death. Whenever God is involved, He finds a way to cast aside any ulterior motives and bring about cause for celebration. There are many examples in the Bible, but two in particular stand out. In Genesis, Jacob goes to meet Esau full of apprehension, knowing that his brother may still want him dead. He had stolen Esau’s birthright and blessing, and sought only “favor in the eyes of my lord [Esau]” (Genesis 33:8, 15). How did Esau react when they met? Not with the least bit of malice, but with love and acceptance. The two of them wept together – tears of joy, for their old wounds had been healed.
The story I am always struck by is that of the prodigal son. The younger son asks his father for his share of the estate, by which he essentially says that he wishes his father were dead. When his circumstances take a turn for the worse, he has a change of heart and realizes just how fortunate he was at home. Ashamed of himself and dreading the reunion with his father, he seeks only forgiveness enough to be taken in as a servant rather than a son. But upon his return, his father “saw him and was filled with compassion for him” (Luke 15:20). His father forgot the past, and accepted his son with unconditional love. The story goes on to describe the reaction of the older son, which is also important. He is the one who holds a grudge against his brother because of what he had done, and wants no part in the reunion. Instead, he is consumed by his own self image, wondering why his righteous actions are seemingly going unnoticed.
We can all relate to these stories, because at some point we have all been in each of these positions, with both God and others in our lives. Sometimes we seek recognition or favor, as Jacob did. Sometimes we rebel and wander off, and then a sense of need or shame overtakes us. Like the prodigal son, we strive for forgiveness and attempt to somehow set things right. And when our efforts don’t produce results, we can be impatient, frustrated, angry, and even envious of others, like the older brother.
What we should ask ourselves in any of these situations is: where are we missing or overlooking God? What part of us needs to be made alive again? God waits for us to be reunited with Him. The invitation is always there. It can sometimes be difficult for us to accept it unconditionally, but do we really have to have a reason to celebrate?
Daniel can be reached via email here.