On Leah in Genesis 29.31-35: “The Second One.”

The lectionary has me reading, in a fragile time, the stories in Genesis of Sarah, Rebekah, Leah. It’s almost a subtle touch of mockery that at the same moment, clips of Song of Songs are also part of the reading: poetic confessions of love at the top, heartbreaking stories of patriarchs and dreadful patriarchy to follow. Then the New Testament passages retrace the nature of sin and redemption, and I try to read the intention of the lectionary, or perhaps the wisdom of God, in bringing these pieces of Word together. Especially in this July moment.

Suffering is part of the biblical witness of womanhood. Leah, in today’s passage, Genesis 29.31-35, names her first four children with Jacob. They are Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. They are named with Leah’s evolving longing and then resignation/revelation: “It is because YHWH has seen my misery; surely my husband will love me now,” then “Because YHWH heard me that I am not loved, he gave me this one too,” then “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons,” and finally, “This time I will praise YHWH.”

It’s a tragic series of painful names. From Leah. Her father’s trick. Her husband’s undesired, second one. Like Hagar and Ishmael. Esau. Cast-asides.

In a moment of racial reckoning, we are debating monuments and musicals of “slaveholding” (enslaving) men who abused, raped, impregnated, murdered, shamefully dehumanized and exploited others. Maybe the difference here is that in the case of these patriarchs, the Scripture makes clear their ugliness. The American Mythology of Washington and Jefferson vaunts them as heroes. Scripture has few redeeming moments for the virtues of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

And instead, the Scripture uses its attention on the stories of the reviled second one.

I feel like the reviled second one.

Today, I read this strange, simple passage, Leah naming her children. And I wept and could not stop weeping. Feeling like always the second son, the rejected one. Unrequited and unreciprocated. Always hoping, this is the one, this is the one that will make them love me now, at last.

And God would have me finally stop. And rest. And say, “This time I will praise the Lord.”

Suffering is part of the biblical witness of Christ. The stone the builders rejected. No stately form or majesty, afflicted and pierced. Judah goes on to have a shameful history himself. Selling Joseph. Tamar. But that’s the line of David and of Christ, the scepter. It’s a brutal, ugly history of desire, dishonesty, dehumanization, individuals birthing a legacy of systemic and cultural rebellion and betrayal. It’s somehow the place where God decides in Scriptures to show up.

It seems too daring or presumptuous to hope that God would be showing up in the profound ugliness of me and my life. It feels like an airless, narrow passage, and God does not appear to be here.

In this summer of sheltering in place, a summer I’d originally planned to be pursuing long overdue projects and finding my creative breath,  I’m instead finding myself overwhelmed with the amount of attention required to simple breathe, survive, exist in my family, inhabit my body…

I feel that I am the second one. And at the end of a long and ugly rope of my life, I hope to finally be able to say, this time I will praise the Lord.