My heart always goes out to Leah, the wife Jacob didn’t want. Here is the sermon I preached on this story from Genesis 29: Revised Common Lectionary, Ordinary Time 17A.
The Unwanted One
A Sermon on Genesis 29:15-35
You know there’s going to be trouble the minute Leah’s name comes up in the story. The text sets up an unfavorable comparison between Leah and her sister Rachel. The writer wants us to know there’s something wrong with Leah in comparison with Rachel. There’s something delicate or odd about Leah’s eyes. We’re not sure exactly what the Hebrew means there. But the writer is loud and clear when he continues, “But Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful.” The implication is that of course Jacob would prefer Rachel. Of course he wouldn’t want to “settle” for Leah. The text makes it seem like the only thing worth knowing about these two women is that Rachel was prettier.
There’s plenty here to make us uncomfortable, plenty that’s alien to our experience and even distasteful: polygamy—multiple wives, common in that day, women as property to be sold and bought, women primarily valued as baby bearers and in particular male baby bearers. And then there’s the whole atmosphere of dirty tricks that surrounds the Jacob family in nearly every episode.
These may be remote from our experience. But judging by appearances—and comparing—is not. It’s here. It’s now.
Standards of beauty in our day are such that few women feel they can measure up. It is very, very rare to find a woman who feels totally okay about how she looks. That’s why we laughed recently about having our women’s pool party “under cover of darkness.”
But male or female, you at least want to look normal, or not attract attention for not looking exactly normal. Dating and marriage can be a very delicate issue for people with disabilities.
Lots of people know what it’s like to be the one not chosen, or the one always chosen last as when folks choose up sides for sports. “I’ll take so-and-so”—and unspoken, occasionally spoken, is, “and I don’t want so-and-so!” It’s tough to be a wallflower.
It’s tough to look around at others and feel like you don’t measure up. This even happens in the church. People look around at others, and they seem to have their act together. They don’t seem to struggle. They don’t seem wrestle with fear and doubt. They don’t seem to have the problems I do. Judging by appearances, that is.
I’m guessing that, for whatever reason, there were no other offers of marriage for Leah. She was a wallflower. But even if Laban was just using Leah to extract more labor out of Jacob, this plan of switching Leah for Rachel at the wedding would at least provide long-term economic security for her and give her the possibility of children.
Making the switch wasn’t that hard. The bride was always completely veiled and carried into the bridal chamber. Alcohol flowed freely at weddings. Much of it probably flowed down Jacob’s throat. With that in mind, and under cover of darkness, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine how the switch occurred.
The next morning was bad. The look on Jacob’s face, disappointment and even disgust. The sound of Jacob’s angry voice echoing all over the compound. We got the sanitized version of what he said to Laban. The thought of what other people were whispering to one another. Everybody knew Jacob didn’t want Leah. It’s even tempting for us to laugh: Jacob sure got his comeuppance! He had met his match in Laban. But it was at Leah’s expense, and it hurt. (more…)