August 6, 2023
Scripture Reading: Genesis 32-22-31
Sometimes I wonder what it must be like for God – the one who is perfect love and whose heart longs for the maturing of all of the people of God. What is it like to watch us all grow (or not grow) at our own pace and in our own personal way?
There must be some of us in the global community of faith that make God smile and others must make God pull God’s ancient white hair and weep! Jacob must have been one of the latter ones. So determined to have his own way – to do things his own way – without regard for others – to make a life out of deceit and trickery. What must that be like, then, in the shadow of Jacob’s grandfather Abraham who seemed so sensitive and responsive to the will and ways of God?
Here is Jacob who, early on in his life journey, had been blessed with this amazing dream at Bethel where God seemed to show him that in spite of everything, God was still keeping the connection alive between Jacob and God if he would only listen.
We pick up the story of Jacob today after he finally got the wife of his dreams, Rachael, and half of his father-in-law’s wealth and then he set out to go back home to his father Isaac with a whole troop of servants, cattle, sheep, goats, and two wives. He had been enormously successful, as the world defines success, but he was inwardly aware that something was terribly amiss. His life was out of whack!
He knew, too, that he was headed back to where his brother Esau lived and he was afraid that Esau was still angry enough to kill him! The catch was: Esau had a reason to kill him because Jacob stole his birthright! So, Jacob, ever the clever one, divided his clan into two so that when Esau attacked, he wouldn’t lose everything!
Is this frightful bind, Jacob prayed: Genesis 32:9-12. It was like a prayer in the foxhole, wasn’t it? “Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, Lord, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”
What a prayer! It was prayed by a man who was simply out of options, who had been humbled and had discovered that he was not the center of the universe. “I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant.”
So, that night, Jacob sent his whole clan, his wives and his possessions across the Jabbok river and he was alone! “and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.” It was a perfect and fitting climax to Jacob’s relationship with God! A wrestling match! Is this the first sign of a man who was finally coming to a place where he could be an instrument in the hand of God?
The wrestling match with this God-figure seemed to go on all night and it was looking like a draw toward morning. And the opponent says: “We’re not getting anywhere here. Let me go. It’s about morning.” Jacob says: “Not until you bless me!” “I have to know where I stand.”
He got the blessing he asked for and he got it in two steps:
1) This angel / God-figure changed Jacob’s name, from Jacob, the “supplanter” schemer, deceiver, to Israel “Prince of God.” Wow! I don’t know what Jacob wanted as a blessing, but that one can’t be beat!
2) After wrestling all night to what looked like a draw, the opponent merely touched Jacob’s hip and put it out of joint so that he had a permanent limp! That’s a blessing?!
It is as if God wanted to so impress on Jacob the truth that he was not the center of the universe, that getting his way was not life’s ultimate goal, that satisfying his own cravings was not the only consideration and that he, like every other human being on the earth, was broken and imperfect.
Could there have been another reminder more sharp and to the point than a limp that he would have to live with for the rest of his life? A limp that was not some private inconvenience that he could keep a secret from the world, but a limp that he would remember every morning when he went to get dressed and that everyone else would see every day for the rest of his life!
Henri Nouwen, a priest, psychologist, writer, theologian, wrote a book entitled: “The Wounded Healer.” It has a very simple principle at its heart. It is this: the qualifying characteristic for Christian service and effectiveness in the world is NOT training education, or saintliness (as fine as those things are). It is the keen awareness that we are wounded just like everyone around us, and that we understand that our brokenness, our handicap if you will, is transformed into effectiveness by the one
who is our sufficiency!
Until our loud, boastfulness is shattered by the reality of our own brokenness and our oneness with all those who know their brokenness and woundedness, we cannot be effective in kingdom work or in service to the world!
Our limp qualifies us, something like our picture ID identifies us, as one who can begin to learn to serve and be a co-creator with God.
I know this turns the world upside down in comparison with society’s concept of what makes a person great, but the way of Jesus has always stood in stark contrast to every other way.
May we never forget it!