Strangers and Pilgrims

Genesis 31:3-16

Today we read how God instructs Jacob to leave where he is staying and return to the land of his fathers. Despite persecution from his father in law, Jacob has lived uprightly with him and God has blessed him. Saint John Chrysostom praises Jacob’s meekness and writes that ‘whenever we bear people’s wrongdoing meekly and mildly, we enjoy help from on high in a richer and more abundant measure.’

But Jacob also provides us with an example of detachment here. Saint Paul reminds us that we have no lasting city in this world, for ‘we seek the city which is to come’ (1 Peter 2: 11), and Saint Peter encourages us to live ‘as strangers and pilgrims’ on this earth (Hebrews 13: 14). Saint John Chrysostom writes,

The first virtue, indeed the whole of virtue, is to be a stranger to this world, and a sojourner, and to have nothing in common with things here and to hang loose from them.

Here we see the virtue of apatheia, or dispassion. This does not mean that we no longer care about this world or enjoy life, but rather that we attain self-control and inner freedom so that we are no longer governed by our passions and irrational desires.

One day Abba Longinus questioned Abba Lucius about three thoughts, saying first: ‘I want to go into exile.’ The old man said: ‘If you cannot control your tongue, you will not be in exile anywhere. Therefore, control your tongue here, and you will be in exile.’ Next he said to him: ‘I wish to fast.’ The old man replied: ‘If you bend your neck like a rope or bulrush, that is not the fast that God will accept; but rather, control your evil thoughts.’ He said to him the third time: ‘I wish to flee from people.’ The old man responded: ‘If you have not first of all lived rightly with people, then you will not be able to live properly in solitude either.’

From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers

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A Reading from the Book of Genesis 31:3-16:
Then the LORD said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.” So Jacob sent and called Rachel and Leah into the field where his flock was, and said to them, “I see that your father does not regard me with favor as he did before. But the God of my father has been with me. You know that I have served your father with all my strength; yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not permit him to harm me. If he said, ‘The spotted shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore spotted; and if he said, ‘The striped shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore striped. Thus God has taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me. In the mating season of the flock I lifted up my eyes, and saw in a dream that the he-goats which leaped upon the flock were striped, spotted, and mottled. Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am!’ And he said, ‘Lift up your eyes and see, all the goats that leap upon the flock are striped, spotted, and mottled; for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go forth from this land, and return to the land of your birth.'” Then Rachel and Leah answered him, “Is there any portion or inheritance left to us in our father’s house? Are we not regarded by him as foreigners? For he has sold us, and he has been using up the money given for us. All the property which God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children; now then, whatever God has said to you, do.”