Thursday, July 31, 2014

Proper 13 - Year A - Genesis 32:22-31

Proper 13 - Year A
Jacob at the river Jabbok
(Genesis 32:22-31)

What was Jacob thinking - standing thigh-deep in the river Jabbok - ushering his flocks, his wives, his maidservants and his eleven children across to the other side because he fears what will become of him when his much-offended brother Esau catches sight of the returning troupe? 

“You first”, he says, to his family

This is Jacob sneaking back from exile - never the gentleman and always reluctant to face his demons honestly.  Perhaps the sight of these little nieces and nephews will soften the heart of Esau once he sees them in the flesh.  And so the family crosses the Jabbok as a potential sacrifice to Jacob’s misadventures.  Our “hero” remains on the safe side of the river.

He’s a tough nut, is Jacob.  God must need to squint to see the Patriarch in him.   Now - at possibly the lowest point in his story - God decides to show Jacob a mirror.  A man (God?  An angel?) wrestles him until the dawn.  The stranger begins to lose the battle but then defeats Jacob with an underhanded move.   At daybreak the man tries to break the clutch and to depart.  Jacob cries out to the ghostly figure in his grasp: 

“I will not let you go until you bless me”

God in the form of a man appears to lose but then wins and becomes the source of blessing for the one who grasps him in hope-against-hope.  You know the story.  You’ve heard it preached in different guises.  The identification with Christ is not lost on the Christian reader.

What about our similarity to Jacob, then?  How much desperate behavior - our raging, our crying, our violation of other people’s space and boundaries, our historic immaturity and our dishonesty in work and play is based on our need to be loved and treasured and our belief that we have not been so blessed? What is the central part of this story - the pivot around which it turns - if it is not the pleading of Jacob to the one who has defeated him.  

I have nowhere else to go.  I have no one else to turn to.  See through my sin and weakness.  Bless me, Lord!

If not God, then nobody.  If not his blessing, then nothing at all.