Proper 13A; Pentecost 9; Genesis 32:22-31 8/2/20
I remember my friends and I watching Big Time Wrestling on TV when we were young. We thought it was hilarious. We would cheer for our favorites, Dick the Bruiser, Bobo Brazil and Flying Fred Curry to whup the tar out of their opponents.
Jacob’s wrestling with the angel was of a differing nature.
Recalling the ancient belief that a human being could not see God face to face and live, Jacob is wrestling with the angel, not to overcome the angel but to remain in intimacy with the angel so the angel could help Jacob overcome his spiritual faults as a blessing.
It’s odd to use the term, struggle, to describe intimacy with God. Intimacy is something we human beings do struggle with. A part of us can be terrified to allow God to come this close and the struggle is to remain open to the intimacy without cutting it off and withdrawing. Intimacy, as the writer of Hebrews says, can be a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a loving God. Intimacy often awakens pain before it brings peace because God’s love touches our wounded places to initiate healing.
I remember the first time I fell off my bike and skinned my knee. I ran to my mother and she put Merthiolate on the scrape. I yelled in pain and she told me that the pain meant that the red liquid was destroying all the bad germs so that my knee would heal. The next time I fell off my bike and skinned my elbow, I started to make tracts to see my mother but then I stopped for a moment remembering the pain of the cure. It took me awhile before I acquiesced to the double bind of the fear of the pain and healing that it brought, seeking her out.
Jacob lived by his wits in order to negotiate life. Living by our wits usually means that we are ego driven, planning our movements to benefit ourselves, sometimes not thinking of others around us. Self-centered is a better term.
Jacob took the opportunity of his dullard brother Esau to trade lunch for his birthright, which was legal at the time. Jacob took advantage of his mother’s favoritism to escape from his angry brother instead of having a family meeting to sort things out.
Now he was sending servants with an entourage of gifts one at a time, to attempt to soften up Esau so that he wouldn’t take revenge on him. Manipulation of the other instead of a face to face relationship.
When Jacob came to wrestle with the angel, and ended up with a wounded hip joint causing him to limp, Jacob crossed not only over the river, but from being able to live by his wits. Now being physically challenged, he could no longer run nor fight. He was at a dead end and now was faced with learning to trust in the grace of God.
Where do we have difficulty trusting in God in our lives? Are not we all like Jacob, wanting to live by our wits in some areas of our lives when we feel threatened instead of seeking spiritual guidance?
Another point of this story reveals God’s love for us in the midst of our imperfections. God meets us where we are and then begins his spiritual massage of all our sore spots, working out the kinks so that we are healthy and free.
This is the first time in scripture that the term, “children of Israel,” is established. By this, the author of Genesis does not mean solely the children of a country, but children of the transformed Jacob himself.
We are the children of Israel—of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph and so on to Jesus himself. Our roots go all the way back and on our family tree, we all end up sharing the same roots. We really are brothers and sisters.
We are on a learning curve. There is a correlation between learning to remain in intimacy with God and our ability to maintaining our vulnerability with others. The more we learn to live in intimacy with God, hanging in with the relationship while we ride through our fears and challenges, the more we will be able to live vulnerably with one another when times are difficult.
Else we live by our wits. And we all know where that ends up. It’s called conflict. And there seems to be an abundance of that hanging around.
There’s a better way—hang on to the angel. Hang on to one another.