Archive for the ‘Genesis 32’ Tag

Devotion for Proper 13, Year A (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  The Reunion of Esau and Jacob, by Francesco Hayez

Image in the Public Domain

Facing God, Other People, and Ourselves

AUGUST 4, 2019

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Genesis 33:1-11 or Isaiah 17:7-13

Psalm 17:1-8

1 Corinthians 4:1, 9-21

Matthew 10:16-33

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One might suffer for any one of a variety of reasons.  One might suffer (as in the case of Damascus, in Isaiah 17) as punishment for idolatry and injustice.  Maybe (as in 1 Corinthians 4 and Matthew 10) one might suffer for the sake of righteousness.  Perhaps one is merely unfortunate.  Or maybe another explanation fits one’s circumstances.

Either way, the commandment to remember, honor, and obey God remains.  Also, judgment for disobedience is both collective and individual.

As worthwhile as those points are, another one interests me more.  Certain verses in Genesis 32 and 33 refer to faces–of Jacob, Esau, and God.  Karen Armstrong, writing in In the Beginning:  A New Interpretation of Genesis (1996), makes a vital point:  they are all the same face.  Jacob, in confronting Esau, also confronts God and himself.

We human beings go to great lengths to avoid facing God, other people, and ourselves.  In the city in which I live, seldom do I enter a store or a restaurant in which music is not playing; silence is apparently anathema.  Unfortunately, the music is almost always bad, especially in one thrift store, the management of which pipes contemporary Christian “seven-eleven” songs over the speakers.  (I avoid that thrift store more often than not.)  Or, if there is no music, a television set is on.  Sensory stimulation is the order of the day.

But when we are alone and silent, we cannot ignore God and ourselves so easily.  And if we cannot face ourselves honestly, we cannot face others honestly either.  If we persist in running away, so to speak, we will cause our own suffering.  It will not be a matter of God smiting us, but of us smiting ourselves.

One would think that silence would be welcome in more churches.  The silence at the end of the Good Friday service in The Episcopal Church is potent, for example.  Yet many churchgoers have an aversion to silence.  And I recall that, one Good Friday, during that potent silence after the service had ended, someone’s cellular telephone rang, causing spiritual and liturgical disruption.

if we are to become the people we are supposed to be in God, we need to take time to turn off the distracting stimulation and face God, others, and ourselves.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 30, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CLARENCE JORDAN, SOUTHERN BAPTIST MINISTER AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER CHRYSOLOGUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF RAVENNA AND DEFENDER OF ORTHODOXY

THE FEAST OF SAINT VICENTA CHÁVEZ OROZCO, FOUNDRESS OF THE SERVANTS OF THE HOLY TRINITY AND THE POOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT WILLIAM PINCHON, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2018/07/30/facing-god-other-people-and-ourselves/

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Devotion for Proper 12, Year A (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Jacob Struggles with the Angel, from the Gutenberg Bible

Image in the Public Domain

Wrestling with God

JULY 28, 2019

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Genesis 32:3-31 or Isaiah 14:5-20

Psalm 15

1 Corinthians 3:10-23

Matthew 10:1-15

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Jacob had been wrestling all his life.  In the womb he and his brother Esau had struggled with each other.  Jacob had, so to speak, wrestled with Esau during childhood and adulthood.  Jacob had also been wrestling with himself.  On the eve of what turned out to be reconciliation with Esau, Jacob literally wrestled with God or an angel in human form and received a blessing, as well as a limp.  Jacob, literally “supplanter,” also became Israel, literally “may God rule.”

I admire Judaism, from which I learn much.  One aspect of Judaism I find especially helpful is struggling with God as part of a relationship with God.  One finds evidence of that collective struggle throughout the Hebrew Bible.  One also finds evidence of divine judgment and mercy, hence restoration following exile.  The reading from Isaiah 14 is a song of taunting against the defeated Babylonian/Neo-Chaldean monarch.

According to the high standards of Psalm 15, not one of we mere mortals has any hope, except via grace.  Moral perfectionism is an impossible standard, but we should still strive to be the best versions of ourselves we can be.

St. Paul the Apostle wrote to the quarrelsome Corinthian church that it was God’s temple.  (The “you” is plural in the reading.)  That congregation needed to shape up and come closer to its spiritual potential.  Unfortunately, as anyone who has studied the (First) Letter to the Corinthians from St. Clement (I) of Rome (circa 100) should know, the congregation remained quarrelsome and troublesome for at least a generation after St. Paul’s demise.

As my father taught me, troubled people cause trouble..  They are like Jacob.  They are wrestling, metaphorically, with themselves and others.  Perhaps they are wrestling with God also.  In the meantime, in the context of congregational life, are holding a church back, and other members of that community are permitting them to do so.  This is a dynamic present in come congregations I have observed.

One progression in the Gospel of Matthew is the expansion of the audience for the message.  The audience in 7:6 consists of Jews.  Yet, in 28:19, the audience is

all nations.

I, as a Gentile, am grateful for this expansion of the audience.  Through it the wisdom of Judaism, has come to me.  As I struggle with God, others, and myself, I hope that I cause no trouble in churches.  I hope that I am improving spiritually.  I hope that people will recognize the light of Christ in me.  To the extent any of this comes true, God deserves all the glory.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 24, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THOMAS À KEMPIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, PRIEST, AND SPIRITUAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN NEWTON, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WALTER RAUSCHENBUSCH, U.S. BAPTIST MINISTER AND THEOLOGIAN OF THE SOCIAL GOSPEL

THE FEAST OF SAINTS VINCENTIA GEROSA AND BARTHOLOMEA CAPITANIO, COFOUNDERS OF THE SISTERS OF CHARITY OF LOVERE

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2018/07/24/wrestling-with-god-part-ii/

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Devotion for Friday and Saturday Before Proper 24, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Jacob and Esau Are Reconciled

Above:   Jacob and Esau Are Reconciled, by Jan Van den Hoecke

Image in the Public Domain

Building Up Others

OCTOBER 18 and 19, 2019

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The Collect:

O Lord God, tireless guardian of your people,

you are always ready to hear our cries.

Teach us to rely day and night on your care.

Inspire us to seek your enduring justice for all the suffering world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 31:43-32:2 (Friday)

Genesis 32:3-21 (Saturday)

Psalm 121 (Both Days)

2 Timothy 2:14-26 (Friday)

Mark 10:46-52 (Saturday)

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He will not let your foot be moved and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.

Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD himself watches over you; the LORD is your shade at your right hand,

So that the sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; it is he who shall keep you safe.

The LORD shall watch over your going out and your coming in, from this time forth for evermore.

–Psalm 121:3-8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Here is a saying you may trust:

“If we died with him, we shall live with him;

if we endure, we shall reign with him;

if we disown him, he will disown us;

if we are faithless, he remains faithful,

for he cannot disown himself.”

Keep on reminding people of this, and charge them solemnly before God to stop disputing about mere words; it does no good, and only ruins those who listen.

–2 Timothy 2:11-14, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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God seeks to build us up; we should strive to the same for each other.  That is the unifying theme of these lessons.

Distracting theological arguments constitute “mere words” (2 Timothy 2:14).  Of course, many people do not think that such theological arguments are distracting and destructive.  Partisans certainly understand them to be matters of fidelity to God.  Such arguments help to explain the multiplicity of Christian denominations.  I think in particular of the Church of God (Guthrie, Oklahoma), which separated from the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) in 1910-1911 over, in part, the parent body’s liberalization with regard to Sola Scriptura (or, more to the point, that which the Reformed churches call the Regulative Principle of Worship) and worldliness.  The Anderson Church began to (gasp!) permit the wearing of neckties!  (Shock horror)  Granted, the original, narrow meaning of Sola Scriptura, especially in Lutheran theology, applies only to requirements for salvation, but certain schools of Christianity have expanded its scope to matters beyond salvation–from liturgy to the presence or absence of neckties.

Legalism does not build up the body of Christ.  Reconciliation, however, does.  We read a prelude to the reconciliation of Jacob and Esau (effected in Genesis 33) in Chapter 32.  Jacob, who had, with the help of his mother, cheated his brother out of his birthright in Genesis 27, had gone on to become a recipient of trickery in Chapter 29.  He parted company with his father-in-law, Laban, with whom he had a difficult relationship, in Genesis 31, and was nervous about what might happen at a reunion with Esau, who proved to be conciliatory.

The healing of blind Bartimaeus (literally, son of Timaeus) is familiar.  Jesus, unlike many people in the account, has compassion for the blind man calling out to him.  Those others, we might speculate with little or no risk of being wrong, thought of Bartimaeus as a nuisance at worst and an irritant at best.  One need not use one’s imagination much to grasp the application of this story in daily life.  Do we see people, or do we see irritants and nuisances?

A moral law of the universe is that, whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves also.  This challenges us all, does it not?  Tearing others down might be in one’s short-term interests, but, in the long term, those who injure others do so to their detriment.

How is God calling you to build up others today, O reader?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 31, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE VISITATION OF MARY TO ELIZABETH

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/05/31/building-up-others-2/

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Proper 24, Year C   7 comments

Rembrandt_-_Jacob_Wrestling_with_the_Angel_-_Google_Art_Project

Above:  Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, by Rembrandt Van Rijn

The Efficacy of Prayer

The Sunday Closest to October 19

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost

OCTOBER 20, 2019

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 31:27-34 and Psalm 119:97-104

or 

Genesis 32:22-31 and Psalm 121

then 

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

Luke 18:1-8

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/prayer-of-praise-and-adoration-for-the-twenty-second-sunday-after-pentecost/

Prayer of Confession:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/prayer-of-confession-for-the-twenty-second-sunday-after-pentecost/

Prayer of Dedication:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/prayer-of-dedication-for-the-twenty-second-sunday-after-pentecost/

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You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that the LORD your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice.  You shall not judge unfairly:  you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just.  Justice, justice you shall pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the LORD your God is giving to you.

–Deuteronomy 16:18-20, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

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Through your commandments I gain understanding;

Therefore I hate every lying way.

–Psalm 119:104, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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A judge was supposed to issue impartial rulings, but the woman in the parable from Luke 18:1-8 had to resort to threats of physical violence (slapping the judge in the face or giving him a black eye), to get justice.  Extraordinary circumstances required extraordinary methods.  But God, as Jesus tells us, is impartial.  Deuteronomy 10:17-19 agrees and imposes a set of obligations on the people:

For the LORD your God is God supreme and Lord supreme, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who shows no favor and takes no bribe, but upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing.  You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.  (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures)

There is a profound link between how we regard God and how we act toward one another, not that Atheists cannot be moral people and agents of what the Lutheran confessions of faith call civic righteousness.  Yet, if we love God, we will love one another actively.

Another theme in the readings for this Sunday is persistence in prayer.  But what is prayer?  The Book of Common Prayer (1979) defines it as

…responding to God, by thought and deeds, with or without words.  (page 856)

Christian prayer, according to the same page of the same volume, is

…response to God the Father, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer is a state of being.  It is how we think and therefore act.  Prayer is far more than the definition I heard in children’s Sunday School:

talking to God.

No, prayer is really about the covenant God has written on our hearts.

So, according to that definition, how is your prayer life?  You might struggle with God, O reader, but that is fine.  In Islam people submit to Allah, but in Judaism they struggle and argue with God.  I, being a strong-minded person, enjoy that part of my religious heritage.  At least there is a relationship with God through all that struggling.  And a transformed state awaits each of us at the end.  A trickster came to play a prominent role in salvation history.  And one gains much valuable understanding through the struggles.

May we persist in our struggles with God and in our efforts to behave justly, for the glory of God and the benefit of others.  The process will transform us, making us better.  That is one valid way to understand the efficacy of prayer.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 8, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BENEDICT II, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF DAME JULIAN OF NORWICH, SPIRITUAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MAGDALENA OF CANOSSA, FOUNDER OF THE DAUGHTERS OF CHARITY AND THE SONS OF CHARITY

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER OF TARENTAISE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/the-efficacy-of-prayer/

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Proper 13, Year A   29 comments

Above: Byzantine Mosaic of John the Baptist, from Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Image in the Public Domain

Called to Bring People to God

The Sunday Closest to August 3

The Ninth Sunday After Pentecost

AUGUST 2, 2020

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FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #1

Genesis 32:22-31 (New Revised Standard Version):

The same night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said,

Let me go, for the day is breaking.

But Jacob said,

I will not let you go, unless you bless me.

So he said to him,

What is your name?

And he said,

Jacob.

Then the man said,

You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.

Then Jacob asked him,

Please tell me your name.

But he said,

Why is it that you ask my name?

And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying,

For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.

The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Psalm 17:1-7, 16 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hear my plea of innocence, O LORD;

give heed to my cry;

listen to my prayer, which does not come from lying lips.

2 Let my vindication come forth from your presence;

let your eyes be fixed on justice.

3 Weigh my heart, summon me by night,

melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.

4 I give no offense with my mouth as others do;

I have heeded the words of your lips.

5 My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law;

in your paths my feet shall not stumble.

6 I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me;

incline your ear to me and hear my words.

7 Show me your marvelous loving-kindness,

O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand

from those who rise up against me.

16 But at my vindication I shall see your face;

when I awake, I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.

FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #2

Isaiah 55:1-5 (New Revised Standard Version):

Ho, everyone who thirsts,

come to the waters;

and you that have no money,

come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk

without money and without price.

Why do you spend money for that which is not bread,

and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,

and delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear, and come to me;

listen, so that you may live.

I will make with you an everlasting covenant,

my steadfast, sure love for David.

See, I made him a witness to the peoples,

a leader and commander for the peoples.

See, you shall call nations that you do not know,

and nations that do not know you shall run to you,

because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel,

for he has glorified you.

Psalm 145:8-9, 15-22 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

8 The LORD is gracious and full of compassion,

slow to anger and of great kindness.

9 The LORD is loving to everyone

and his compassion is over all his works.

15 The LORD upholds all those who fall;

he lifts up those who are bowed down.

16 The eyes of all wait upon you, O LORD,

and you give them their food in due season.

17 You open wide your hand

and satisfy the needs of every living creature.

18 The LORD is righteous in all his ways

and loving in all his works.

19 The LORD is near to those who call upon him,

to all who call upon him faithfully.

20 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;

he hears their cry and helps them.

21 The LORD preserves all those who love him,

but he destroys all the wicked.

22 My mouth shall speak the praise of the LORD;

let all flesh bless his holy Name for ever and ever.

SECOND READING

Romans 9:1-5 (New Revised Standard Version):

I am speaking the truth in Christ– I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit– I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

GOSPEL READING

Matthew 14:13-21 (New Revised Standard Version):

Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said,

This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.

Jesus said to them,

They need not go away; you give them something to eat.

They replied,

We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.

And he said,

Bring them here to me.

Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

The Collect:

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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The call of God transformed a schemer named Jacob into a the patriarch Israel.  That mandate was to be a light to the nations, and it applied to the Israelite people as a whole.  (It still does.)  To be set aside as chosen is to receive a great responsibility.  This is a matter of duty, not prestige.

That duty is to bring diverse peoples to God.  Read Matthew 13, which contains parables of inclusion.  The mustard plant was inclusive in so far as animals of various species took shelter within it.  This mustard plant was an allegory for the Kingdom of God.  And, when we turn to the wheat field infected with tares and the net full of good and bad fish, we read that God will sort out the good and the bad, the wheat and the weeds, later.

We read also in Matthew 13 that the Kingdom of God is precious, worthy of single-minded devotion.  Consider the brief parables of the pearl and the treasure.

So here we are in Matthew 14, following those parables and the execution of John the Baptist.  He drew people to God.  But lest we oversimplify, and say that we must always be nice, consider the examples of Jesus and John the Baptist.  They used harsh words when appropriate, and they contributed greatly to these holy men going to their deaths.  Read the prophets, also.  Was Jeremiah habitually polite and respectable?  No, of course not.  All these men suffered because of the ways they brought people to God.

Even being nice scared people and put Jesus at risk.  Few actions are nicer than feeding people.  But this and other miracles scared certain individuals who had the power to execute Jesus or to arrange such a death.

Why do we fear good, holy people at any time, in any place?  Sometimes their examples reveal our own shortcomings.  So, instead of seeking to correct our errors, we react defensively.  Or, in the case of Jeremiah, Jesus, and John the Baptist, they threaten power structures–such as domestic and foreign potentates and religious hierarchies.  And, in a society lacking the separation of religion and state, powerful political figures can label theological dissent as treason, or at least a moral threat to society.  This happened in the Byzantine Empire, too, and, in North America, in colonial New England.  (Puritans hanged Quakers.)

So being a light to the nations is a perilous vocation.  But it is God’s call.  It is the way to life, even if death is a stop along the way.  Countless saints, many of them martyrs, continue to teach this lesson by the example of their lives, even many years after their earthly journeys ended.  And contemporary martyrs and other saints do the same.  Potentates who persecute think that they can eradicate a message they fear.  But, time after time, history proves that the blood of the martyrs waters the church.  Persecution usually has the effect of increasing the brightness of the light the persecutors seek to extinguish.  These persecutors do not learn quickly or at all, do they?

And so the Kingdom of God continues unabated, much like the mustard plant Jesus used as a parable illustration.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

–John 1:5 (Revised Standard Version)

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/called-to-bring-people-to-god/

Week of Proper 9: Tuesday, Year 1   19 comments

Above: Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

Wrestling with God

JULY 9, 2019

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Genesis 32:22-32 (An American Translation):

That same night he [Jacob] arose, and taking his two wives, his two female slaves, and his eleven children, he sent them across the ford of the Jabbok.  He took them, and sent them across the stream, and everything that belonged to him across.  Jacob himself was left behind all alone.  Then a man wrestled with him until daybreak, and when he found that he could not master him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh, so that the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated as he wrestled him.  Then he said,

Let me go; for the dawn is breaking.

But he replied,

I will not let you go, unless you bless me.

He said to him,

What is your name?

He replied,

Jacob.

Then he said,

Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel [wrestler with God], because you have wrestled with God and man, and have been the victor.

Jacob requested,

Please tell me your name.

He replied,

Why is it that you ask for my name?

nevertheless he blessed him there.

So Jacob called the name of that place Peniel (face of God];

For,

said he,

I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been spared.

The sun rose on him just as he passed Penuel, limping because of his thigh.  That is why to this day the Israelites do not eat the hip muscle which is on the socket of the thigh; for the socket of Jacob’s thigh was touched on the hip muscle.

Psalm 17:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hear my plea of innocence, O LORD;

give heed to my cry;

listen to my prayer, which does not come from lying lips.

2 Let my vindication come forth from your presence;

let your eyes be fixed on justice.

3 Weigh my heart, summon me by night,

melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.

4 I give no offence with my mouth as others do;

I have heeded the words of your lips.

5 My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law;

in your paths my feet shall not stumble.

6 I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me;

incline your ear to me and hear my words.

7 Show me your marvelous loving-kindness,

O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand

from those who rise up against them.

8 Keep me as the apple of your eye;

hide me under the shadow of your wings.

Matthew 9:32-38 (An American Translation):

But just as they were going out, some people brought to him a dumb man who was possessed by a demon, and as soon as the demon was driven out, the dumb man was able to speak.  And the crowds were amazed, and said,

Nothing like this was ever seen in Israel!

But the Pharisees said,

It is by the prince of demons that he drives them out.

Jesus went round among all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness.

But the sight of the crowds of people filled him with pity for them, because they were bewildered and dejected, like sheep that have no shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples,

The harvest is abundant enough, but the reapers are few.  So pray to the owner of the harvest to send reapers to gather it.

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The Collect:

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Jacob, literally the “supplanter,” was on his way to meet with Esau, his estranged brother.  Jacob had spent the previous three chapters and over 14 years in the shadow of Laban, his father-in-law, who had tricked him and whom he had manipulated.  With that dispute settled, there was older unfinished business to settle.  Jacob did not know what Esau’s mood would be.

So, one night, Jacob faced God in the flesh.  Sometimes certain Hebrew texts use “God” and “angel” interchangeably, but the meaning in Genesis 32:22-32 is that Jacob wrestled with God incarnate.  He held on and persisted through the night and received a new name, Israel (meaning “wrestler with God,” “contender with God,” “God rules,” et cetera), and a limp, but he survived mostly intact.  Jacob was a changed man in more than one way.

We ought to take comfort in such stories.  Jacob, despite his flaws, was a chosen instrument of God.  Note also that God instigated the wrestling match.

Submission to God is the chief moral virtue in Islam.  Yet one of the pivotal stories in the Hebrew Bible is one of a man and God wrestling, with God starting the match.  Struggling and arguing with God is a key element in multiple Hebrew Bible stories; consider Job, for example.  He argued with God until God answered.  Whoever coined the cliche “the patience of Job” did not understand that book well.

And, although our flaws might not be as dramatic as those of Jacob, our imperfections do have consequences for ourselves and others.  Yet God can work through us, too.

I posit that a vital detail in the account from Genesis is that Jacob grasped God and refused to let go.  The man who struggled with God did so while grasping God; there was a relationship with the deity.

I contrast this with the response of Pharisees to Jesus’ healing of a mute man.  Demon possession was a common diagnosis for muteness, epilepsy, and many other conditions, so who knows what caused the man’s inability to speak?  But, whatever it was, Jesus cured it.  And some tradition-moribund religious people chose not to wrestle (metaphorically) with this incarnation of God.  If they had, they might have discovered answers and changed their lives and those of others.

After reading and studying the Bible for most years of my life, and after years of attempts (of varying degrees of effort and success) of faithful living, I have learned many lessons.  Among them is this:  God is frequently surprising.  God does not fit into our artificial theological boxes.  We never have God figured out.  Yes, we can understand partially, but that is as far as we can go.  So, as useful as traditions can be, a spiritual wrestling match now and then can prove much more helpful.

By the way, Jacob and Esau reconciled then parted company;  Jacob’s fears proved false.  And Jacob became the father of the men whose names continue as Hebrew tribes.  There is no tribe of Joseph, but two tribes carry the names of his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.  And there was no tribal land allotment to the Levites.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/08/26/wrestling-with-god/