The first reading for today is one of my favorite “God-as-a-parent” moments in the Bible. It is the story of Jacob’s dream:
“Jacob departed from Beer-sheba and proceeded toward Haran.
When he came upon a certain shrine, as the sun had already set,
he stopped there for the night.
Taking one of the stones at the shrine, he put it under his head
and lay down to sleep at that spot.
Then he had a dream: a stairway rested on the ground,
with its top reaching to the heavens;
and God’s messengers were going up and down on it.
And there was the LORD standing beside him and saying:
“I, the LORD, am the God of your forefather Abraham
and the God of Isaac;
the land on which you are lying
I will give to you and your descendants.
These shall be as plentiful as the dust of the earth,
and through them you shall spread out east and west, north and south.
In you and your descendants
all the nations of the earth shall find blessing.
Know that I am with you;
I will protect you wherever you go,
and bring you back to this land.
I will never leave you until I have done what I promised you.”
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he exclaimed,
“Truly, the LORD is in this spot, although I did not know it!”
In solemn wonder he cried out: “How awesome is this shrine!
This is nothing else but an abode of God,
and that is the gateway to heaven!”
Early the next morning Jacob took the stone
that he had put under his head,
set it up as a memorial stone, and poured oil on top of it.
He called the site Bethel,
whereas the former name of the town had been Luz.
Jacob then made this vow: “If God remains with me,
to protect me on this journey I am making
and to give me enough bread to eat and clothing to wear,
and I come back safe to my father’s house, the LORD shall be my God.
This stone that I have set up as a memorial stone shall be God’s abode.”
It is the last paragraph that makes me laugh. Jacob has just had a vision of God visiting him and promising to make him the father of a great nation, multiply his descendents, save him from his brother’s wrath, keep him alive and bring him back to his home.
Jacob says, “Great! So here’s the deal: if you do what you say, if you remain with me, if you protect me on the journey, if you keep me well fed and warm enough, if you bring me back to my home, then you shall be my God. In token of that, here’s this rock I’ve been using as a pillow. You can have it as a house.”
“No, seriously, God. It’s all yours. Don’t worry, I don’t need it anymore since I’ll be moving on now and I’m sure I can find another one at my next campsite.”
Every time I read this I can’t help but wonder if he was really thinking about God, the God of the Universe, who created that rock, and the rock that it came from and the glacier that carved it out, and the planet that the glacier formed on, and the solar system that the planet formed from, and the whole universe.
As God Himself said later on in Israel’s history:
But there is an important message for me in my own smug smile. Yeah, Jacob offered God a rock. It wasn’t even a very big rock since he had been using it as a pillow. But let’s lay he had offered a pile of rocks? Would God be any more or less impressed? Let’s say when Jacob became rich and wealthy he returned and built a ziggerut. Would God be impressed?
Jacob’s “gift” to God is a reminder that all my “gifts” to God are on the same level. Even if I write great blog posts and convert atheists and heal poor people and offer Him the rosary and fasts and Eucharists and everything else, it would still look to God like exactly what it is. A little child bringing Him a flower that I picked out of His lawn. Hopefully I picked it out of the lawn and not His carefully arranged flower beds.
No matter what we give Him, we are only ever giving back what was already His. That is the beauty of it. It isn’t the value of the gift, it is the love of the giver.
This is the deficiency of my gifts, the only deficiency that really matters, that I try to impress God. Perhaps Jacob was wise in offering God a rock. Perhaps he was wise enough to know that he could never offer God anything worthwhile, and so he offered Him what he had, i.e. a pretty rock from God’s driveway.
“And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.[f] And He called His disciples to Him and said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.'” Mark 12:42-44