Scripture: Genesis 25-28
Key verses: (25:24-26) When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
Reflection: If the most famous Hellenic heel is that of Achilles, I assume the most famous biblical heel association is that of Jacob. One might not make immediate comparisons of the two — one being a swift footed Achaean battle star, the other a mama’s boy ready to lie his way through life. Yet the two share important similarities: both deal with human weakness, of struggling with fate or providence, and the often mysterious will of the divine. While Achilles’ heel is a mortal weakness, Jacob’s heel-grabbing is a moral weakness.
Although Achilles suggests he can avoid death not by living to the favor of the gods but by manipulating circumstances, his weakness is bound up with fate and the quest of eternal glory. On the battle field Achilles is caught between the assurance of life and the hope of heroic mortality: “If I stay here and fight, I shall not return alive, but my name will live forever. Whereas, if I go home, my name will die, but it will be long ere death shall take me.” Achilles is an action-oriented, in-your-face character, who’s strength and skill provide the opportunity for legendary status.
The biblical patriarch of Jacob wrestles with weakness, fate, and the mysterious will of the divine, but his story is quite different. Smooth-skinned, puny, and the second-born, Jacob was always seen as less-than in comparison to his older brother Esau, at least in the eyes of his father Isaac. Manipulation, at the direction of his mother, is the driver in receiving blessing. Jacob steals Esau’s birthright with a pot of stew, then Jacob steals Esau’s blessing through lies and deception, claiming God blessed his hasty hunt.
As a second child myself, I am drawn to Jacob and his character. I have struggled with the idea of acceptance, approval, and blessing. Like Jacob, born a “heel-grabber”, I wonder what proverbial heel you are reaching for. Is your heel one that will provide the promise of life or one that accepts mortality at the expense of posturing glory. As Christians we have found both, life and death, in Christ. Even more, we have received glory not through our actions — mighty or manipulative — but by the actions of God in Christ. We may reach for what is seemingly significant now, yet it is God’s grace and promise that provides significance in all we do.
Prayer: God of promise, it is in you that I am claimed beloved. It is by your love that I have life. It is by your grace that I have glory. Help me to reach for you in all I do. Amen.
Author: Ben Brannan
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].
 Homer, Iliad, Book IX, p. 161.