“And their father Jacob said to them, ‘I am the one you have bereaved of children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has happened to me!’ Then Reuben said to his father, ‘You may kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you. Put him in my hands, and I will bring him back to you.’ But Jacob said, ‘My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should come to him on the journey that you are to make, you would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol.’”
When Jacob, who has lost one son, hears that to get his son back from Egypt, he must send his youngest, favored son to Egypt, he refuses. He has lost one son years ago. Now another is in prison in Egypt. He is not about to risk a third son. So, he simply accepts the loss of the second son. He figures better that than loosing two more.
Risk. What is acceptable risk? When are we willing to risk? For what will we risk?
In the political debates around us, we hear talk of sacrifice, but it is not the sacrifice of the candidates themselves. It is risking the lives of others, in the military, for instance. What are they willing to risk their own lives, their own sons and daughters, for?
We think of changes we would like to see. Changes in ourselves. Maybe in our attitudes. Maybe in our behavior. Maybe we would like to be more patient. Or forgiving. Or honest with ourselves. Or compassionate. To make these changes involves risk. We have to give up our old, familiar ways, and we aren’t assured of the outcome.
What are we willing to risk to see that all children in our country are well educated? Are we willing to risk paying more money to teachers? Are we willing to risk holding parents accountable? In some school systems, if the student is late to school three times, the parents are fined. And the fine is not a token. If they won’t pay, are we willing to risk garnishing wages?
What are we willing to risk to eradicate racism, at least systemic racism, in our country? What is it worth to us? What are we willing to invest?
As Jacob saw his situation, he was not willing to risk the life of one son for another. Having lost two sons, he was not willing to risk making it three. The second son was not worth the risk. That’s how he saw it. His son, Reuben, however, was willing to risk the lives of his own two sons to save the live of his brothers.
How do we assess the risks we are willing to take? Sometimes it seems like we are taking risks on the wrong things and playing it safe when we should be risking all.
May we have the discernment to know what is really important in life. Jesus was a risk taker. Nothing was too much for the good of others, even his own life. May we value life so much that we, too, are willing to risk our lives. Amen.