29When they came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them, saying, 30“The man, the lord of the land, spoke harshly to us, and charged us with spying on the land. 31But we said to him, ‘We are honest men, we are not spies. 32We are twelve brothers, sons of our father; one is no more, and the youngest is now with our father in the land of Canaan.’ 33Then the man, the lord of the land, said to us, ‘By this I shall know that you are honest men: leave one of your brothers with me, take grain for the famine of your households, and go your way. 34Bring your youngest brother to me, and I shall know that you are not spies but honest men. Then I will release your brother to you, and you may trade in the land.'”
35As they were emptying their sacks, there in each one’s sack was his bag of money. When they and their father saw their bundles of money, they were dismayed. 36And 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!” 37Then 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.” 38But he 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.”
It’s hard to imagine what Jacob must have been feeling at this point. He’s been kept in the dark to this point. He’s long been mourning his favored son. He’s worried that he may lose more at the hands of the Egyptians. It would be easy to imagine that at this point Jacob is feeling like the actions of his past are coming back to haunt him. He was, in his past, a liar and a deceiver. Since then, he has had a life of struggle and loss. He has to imagine a this point in his life that his youthful betrayals are bearing consequences.
On my drive home yesterday, I listened to the audiobook of the Bhagavad Gita… because I’m a big religion nerd… and in the opening commentary there is a definition of the word “karma”. We tend to think of it as meaning “what goes around comes around”, but it is a bit more nuanced than that. Karma means that every action is both the cause and effect of other actions. It’s about consequences, yes, but it’s also about character. We are the sum of the decisions that we make.
I have felt a lot lately that I have found myself on the wrong side of karma. I feel like my negative actions have caught up with me in ways that at times feel overwhelming. It’s hard not to feel like I have earned/created the life that I have now, because in all honesty, I have. The thing about Karma though is that it isn’t changed by wishing or praying it away. It is changed by selfless action which serve as their own reward.
I can easily imagine Jacob’s despair. I have felt a version of that despair lately and wondered if there was any escape. Hinduism and Christianity agree that the best way to find oneself is to lose oneself in service to others. I confess that I so easily get lost in the sense of despair that says that I can not escape the consequences of my actions and I recommit myself to being a person of selfless service to world.