BIBLE STUDY ON GENESIS: God Gives Grace According to One’s Character—Fr. Joseph Edattu VC
Author: Kim Esgana 26 Nov 2021
A talk by Fr. Joseph Edattu, VC based on Genesis 28:10.
This verse is about the Old Testament patriarch Jacob. He is a man of deceit. He is a man of deceit because he cheated his father and his brother. He was busy cheating others, so he is a man of deceit. Jacob cheated his brother Esau and then somehow managed to collect the blessings from his father, though illegal – the blessing is valid. He received the blessing. You can see the blessing follows but, at the same time, a sinful character, a sinful nature follows him. So, always remember God’s grace will be according to one’s nature.
One’s Character is Forever
A saint is made according to one’s nature. Man’s basic nature will not be changed even if he stops committing sin. Any person, when he is changed or converted, his basic character will be forever. All the sinful nature will be removed but the basic nature will be there once and for all. If you look into the life of all the saints, all the saints are different. Nobody is exactly like Jesus. They all follow Jesus with their character, with their basic nature that God has given them from birth. It will never be changed—the basic character or nature. But anything that is sinful in nature should be changed and will be changed. This is something that we need to remember. Just because somebody is converted doesn’t mean they should be exactly like someone else, exactly like Jesus, or exactly like some saints. No.
One’s Character is a Gift
Each of us have our own identity, individual capacity, individual nature, that God has given us as a gift. According to this nature, God gives grace. With this grace, we defeat sin, defeat evil and we grow in holiness. For example, some saints are very introverts while others are extroverts. Some saints are very active while others always kept quiet and didn’t talk to anyone. Some saints were in the wilderness always meditating while others in the marketplace always active. Each saint is individually different. Their nature is different.
One’s Character is Unique
Saint John Mary Vianney and Saint Padre Pio, both are the saints of confession. They would sit for hours and hours in the confessional. Saint John Mary Vianney was a parish priest and would listen for hours to confessions. He was always in prayer and at the same time, very compassionate and merciful. Saint Padre Pio was also full of holiness, but he was very strict in the confessional. He had chased people out of the confessional when they were not coming with repentance. He was very tough with the people and used to get angry with those who came without repentance but deceit in confession. So, the saints had different characters. Another example is Saint Dominic Savio and Saint John Bosco. Saint Dominic Savio was always in prayer, always in the chapel, always reciting the Holy Rosary. But his spiritual father, Saint John Bosco, was hardly found in the chapel or in prayer. He was always among the youngsters—taking care of them and speaking to them about Jesus. He was busy with the people of God, the poor people, the youngsters. He was always actively involved with them but hardly found in prayer in the chapel.
One’s Character, Through Grace, Can Make One a Saint
There are different characters, different nature for every human being. According to one’s nature, God gives grace, and one becomes a saint. We cannot say,“if you want to be a saint, you should be like this person.” We cannot say that because each individual has his/her own nature and character. But when grace comes, you will be able to overcome the sinful character, sinful nature. Although we have our personal nature, everything sinful in it must be cleansed. So, one can be an introvert—one who is always silent, always in prayer and wants to grow spiritually like this. While another person can be very charismatic—one who likes prayers but through praise and worship, and not meditation. So, this person who wants to be in silent prayer cannot accuse the one who wants to have loud praise and worship because that’s his way of connecting to God. Each one has his or her own way of connecting to God. We cannot blame or accuse anybody saying, “this is the only method of prayer,” “this is the only way you should connect to God,” “this is the only acceptable prayer.” We cannot say that because every individual is unique. God gives grace to each individual according to their nature and character. That’s why we have so many varieties of saints in the Catholic Church. Each one is different from another. Yes, there are so many similarities but each one is individual and different from each other.
In Genesis 28:10, we see Jacob entirely different from Abraham. Abraham always had a good character, always just, always prayerful, always holy. He was ready to sacrifice his own son in obedience to God. Isaac, too. But Jacob was not like that. Jacob had his own weaknesses. His character was deceitful, but God was purifying him. His deceitful character was purified. But his basic character—his partiality and all those things was there all throughout his life. In his older days, he was showing partiality to Joseph, though Joseph had so many brothers. He gave special love, special care for his son, Joseph. The same care was not given to his elders. Therefore, we should stop accusing or blaming anyone but at the same time, we must make sure our nature or character must be purified. God, anyway, He will purify us.
Our character must be formed, tamed, purified
Let’s reflect on Abraham. He had a very good life, a happy life. He had some of those ‘low moments while he was waiting for a child. Otherwise, he was always successful. He was always settled. He had a peaceful life, and he was prospering in everything he did. There wasn’t much crisis happening in his life. In contrast, in the life of Jacob, you can see problems after problems. He was cheated by his own father-in-law many times. He worked hard for his desire to be fulfilled. He wanted to marry Rachel, but it did not happen; he was cheated. The firstborn Leah was given to him for marriage. He had to wait many years to marry Rachel. He went through lots of crises. He was always in trouble so his character could be formed, his nature could be tamed, his nature could be purified.
If you are already a purified person, with holiness in your nature, you will receive the grace on your nature more and more easily. But if your nature is very contaminated or impure or deceitful, you may have to go through a purification process. This can be a tough purification process based on your cooperation with God. If you cooperate with God easily, you will be cleansed or purified easily and be led to holiness or sainthood.
Attracting the Grace of God can happen through a father’s blessing
Jacob – a man of deceit. Though he received the blessing of his father, he had to run away from his father and mother. He ran to his uncle, Laban. On the way, while resting in one place, we read in Genesis 28:10-11 “Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place.” We don’t know why he stayed there. Something attracted him. Something made him stay there that night. There were probably so many good places around, but he stayed there. Since he received his blessing from his father, there was a hidden hand of God always working through him. God was leading him to the right places. This place where he stayed had got something special. That was a holy place. Though he didn’t know it was a holy place, he reached there and stayed there unknowingly because there was an inner call within him, that prompted him to stay there. That night, he had a God experience. If you are a man or woman of blessing, you will be guided by the Holy Spirit. Just like Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit everywhere, you will also be led by the Holy Spirit. If you have the blessing on you, the blessing of your father or your mother, you will be led by the Holy Spirit even without knowledge. He will lead you to the right place and make you stay in the right place. That’s how God works.
You must have seen sometime in your life, you were chosen while others were denied. You were chosen for a ministry, but others were not given a chance to do ministry. You were chosen for a certain position while others rejected. You wonder why others haven’t got the chance, but you did. There’s always a hidden hand of God in you because somewhere somebody’s prayer and blessing is there. Though your character may not be correct. Maybe you are the wrong person. You are a deceitful person, an unholy person. But wherever you go, you get success. That’s because there’s someone’s blessing on you. Just like in the case of Jacob. His father’s blessing was so powerful, and he managed somehow to get this blessing. Therefore, wherever he went, he was successful. Because of his sinful character, he had to go through lots of struggles, but in whatever endeavors he took up, there was success. This can also happen in your life. If you are a person of blessing, if you have the blessing of your father or mother, if somebody is there to pray for you, in your life you will see unexpected blessings. Even when you are not leading a good life, God will bless you. Somehow, a blessing will come upon you. But it won’t be a smooth road because your character is not tamed. So, God will make sure that your character is also tamed and purified because somebody else is praying for you, or someone’s blessing is on you.
God uses Jacob to reveal a prophecy
Genesis 28:11 -12 “He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” Such a long, huge ladder was set upon the earth. The top one was touching heaven and the other part was touching the earth. Angels were ascending and descending on it. It was a beautiful dream. This was a foreshadow, a prophecy, about the coming of the Saviour, the Son of God, Jesus himself. We will see the connection soon in the Bible. Angels were going up and down the ladder, as if there’s an easy shortcut going to heaven. Anytime, one can go up and come back. So, there’s an easy connection from earth to heaven—the supernatural realm and the natural realm. Between God and human being, there’s an easy connection is created. That was the message given to Jacob. The Lord was telling him, there’s going to be an easy connection between God and human beings, the angels will be going up and down easily without trouble.
He also saw the Lord standing beside him, next to the ladder. The Lord was supposed to be in heaven, but the Lord had come down to this earth, stood next to him and spoke to him. The Lord was, in fact, giving a message to him that there will be a Saviour. God himself will come down and establish a shortcut to heaven so it is easy for you to be connected to heaven anytime, anywhere. The meaning of Jacob’s ladder.
The Lord was standing there. The ladder and God himself. That means, Jacob’s Dream is not just about the ladder but also about Yahweh, the Lord. He saw the ladder plus God. Genesis 28:13 “And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring.” The Lord promised him that the land where he was staying would be given to his offspring. Here, it uses a singular form of ‘offspring’. We know Jacob had 12 children. Then out of the 12, thousands and thousands of children—all of the Israelites. But the Lord uses the word ‘your offspring.’ One single offspring will be given this land. This New Israel will be given to that offspring, and he is, in fact, speaking about Jesus himself. The son of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, who is going to establish the New Israel, which is nothing but the ladder that goes to heaven. So, the New Israel, the Church is the ladder through which angels will ascend and descend easily. Then God himself will be there and be revealed to us.
Genesis 28:14 “and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.” Through this ladder, this revelation, this shortcut from heaven to earth, the whole world (all the nations) will be blessed. In fact, God was prophesying about Christianity through Jesus Christ, the New Israel, the Church, through which the whole world will be blessed. If you look into the world, you can see the blessing of Christianity. The world is what it is today because of Christianity. If there is charity, compassion, mercy, all this tolerance and everything, it is because of Christianity. Now, if it is losing it’s because Christianity is losing ground.
Let us reflect on the gospel of John 1:47, “When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael is considered as Bartholomew, as many believe, is one of the apostles. Unlike the old Jacob, who was named Israel, in Israel there is no Jacob. We can say it like this because Jacob is a man of deceit. In the same way, Jesus was speaking to this man Nathanael (Bartholomew) and said, ‘truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.’
The Word of God shapes our character
Genesis 28:48 – Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael knew Jesus was a good and Holy man. He was so shocked to know that Jesus knew him. He said “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Jesus was telling him, I saw you when you were sitting under the fig tree. What does it mean? The Jewish rabbis used to teach their students under the fig tree. “Sitting under the fig tree” means they are learning the Bible, the Torah, the Old Testament. So, he was learning and reading the Bible, the Torah, the Old Testament under the fig tree. That’s when Jesus watched him. Jesus said, before Philip called you, I saw you sitting under the fig tree reading the Bible, the Old Testament. I watched you. Remember, this is also a message for us. Every time you take the Bible to read, the Lord is seeing you, looking at you. Every time you take the Bible and read the Word of God, God is watching you. That’s why Jesus said, ‘I saw you.’ When you touch the Word of God and read, Jesus sees you. The Lord says, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’
The closer we come to Jesus, the more we know about His Character
Genesis 28:49 : Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Initially, he wasn’t ready to believe Jesus is the Messiah. But now, instantly, he believed. Then Jesus said in Genesis 28:50, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” Because it’s a secret that only Philip knows that Jesus revealed He knows. Every secret which you know, which you do—maybe your friends don’t see it, nobody sees it—God sees it. God knows it. Every secret that you do even in your personal, private, closed room, God watches and sees it. That’s why, Jesus said, ‘do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? But you will see greater things than these.’ There’s something very special Jesus is going to speak. Because Nathanael was reading the Old Testament, some theologians and scholars say he was in fact reading about Jacob’s ladder. Now, Jesus is referring from that passage. What does it mean? Jesus was telling him, I know you were sitting under the fig tree and reading the Old Testament, and I know what you were reading (the content of what he was reading).
God uses Nathanael to reveal a mystery—Jesus’ Divinity
Genesis 28:51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” In the Old Testament, Jacob saw the ladder and angels ascending and descending, with the Lord himself standing next to him. Angels were ascending and descending on the Lord. In the New Testament, Jesus is quoting the same passage and said, this is what you were reading. The angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. So, who is the Son of Man? The Lord himself. In the Old Testament, Jacob saw the Lord himself, standing next to him under the ladder. Jesus is revealing His Divinity. He’s revealing His Divinity in front of Nathanael. At the same time, Jesus is revealing that every secret thing you do, I know. When you are standing, what you are doing, what you are reading.
Paul’s Converted Character
Another interesting passage is from the message given to Ananias when Paul was converted. Acts 9:11-12 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” God is speaking to Ananias when Paul is praying there. Remember, when you’re in prayer, God is active. When you are praying here, God is active somewhere else. But not only that, God knows where you are praying, what is your identity, your secret names, your pet names, your nicknames, your address, your house/house number, how are you praying (sitting or standing), what are you praying, what is the content of your prayer, and what is the vision that you see, every detail God knows.
The more connected we are with God, the more active He becomes in forming our character, our life, and our future
‘At this moment, he is praying.’ No wonder why God is active. When you are in prayer, God is active somewhere else—for you. God is working somewhere because you are in prayer. Every time you enter into Church in the presence of God, every time you bow before the Blessed Sacrament, every time you kneel down, take the Holy Rosary and pray, remember you are making God active. You are making God work. You are making God do something for you. You are moving God. God is an Unmoved Mover but your prayer can move Him. And God says, “At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” God is working hard for his healing. He is praying somewhere, God is working hard in bringing the right people to him and prepare him for healing. The moment you kneel down and pray, God is working hard for your healing and blessing and deliverance. This is how God works.
On this day, as we reflect on these passages, let us thank the Lord for this wonderful message the Lord has given us. The Lord is watching over us. The Lord knows every second of our details, every moment of it. When we are in prayer, we are moving God. We are making God active. Let us thank the Lord for all these secrets of the Bible, for this moment, for this Word of God that the Lord has given us.
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