Today’s first reading is one part of a tale from the Hebrew Scriptures that just might be my favorite story to be found there.  In the RCC lectionary which we almost always follow it never appears.  But when I saw that it was an option in the lectionary used by other Christian churches for this week, I jumped at it.  I can’t wait to share this story with you.  It is a beautiful depiction of the human person before God.  Whatever readings are picked, the theme of this week is persistence in prayer.  I just believe that this reading goes far deeper than the other options do.

Born Wrestling

Once upon a time there was a man named Isaac who had two twin sons, Esau and Jacob. We’re told that Jacob came out of the womb holding on to Esau, almost as if they had been wrestling.  The competition didn’t stop there.  Jacob grew up jealous of Esau because Esau as the elder (by several minutes) was in line to get the major portion of the inheritance from his father.

Stealing a Blessing

When his father was old and dying it was time for him to pass on a special blessing to his eldest son, Esau.  Isaac was blind with age.  Jacob pretends to be Esau so that he will get the blessing instead.  Isaac is fooled and blesses Jacob, who lies and claims to be Esau.  [Perhaps the apparent legalism of this text makes you wonder why God would participate in the wrong person getting a blessing through a lie.  Stay tuned.  This story is rich.]

Longing for Home

Jacob goes off to a foreign land and indeed receives over time a life that anyone would say was “blessed.”  However it was not without its difficulties.  Something is not quite right with Jacob as he grows older.  He longs to see his brother again.  The desire to see his brother is enough to brave the possibility that his brother may kill him if he sees him, Jacob thinks, because Jacob stole the blessing that was intended for Esau.

Unfinished Business

So Jacob takes his entire household of kin and servants and flocks of various animals and heads back to where Esau lives.  In mythic style he comes to a great river that separates the two lands.  He sends his entire retinue ahead of him across the river, but explains that he must stay behind for one more night because he has some unfinished business.

Wrestling with Being True

At night he falls into a deep sleep.  He finds himself in this world of the unconscious truth-telling to be wresting again.  This is not like in the womb and his early life when he wrestled with Esau.  This was someone different.  They wrestled all night.  Like obsession that any of us might find ourselves wrestling with in our sleep, Jacob keeps asking for a blessing.  Sometimes in our dreams we mull over the key events of our lives—attempting to find meaning.  Jacob is still looking for a blessing.  He’s been greatly blessed, but something is missing.  The person in the dream says, “Let me go!”  Jacob says, “I will not let you go until you give me a blessing.”  The person says, “What is your name?”  He says, “Jacob.”  The person says, “I have a new name for you, Israel—One who wrestles with God.”  Jacob says, “Tell me your name.”  The person says, “Do you really need to ask me my name?”  At that moment Jacob knew that he had seen God face to face and lived.  Then Jacob understood why God asked him in his dream, “What is your name?”  Before he had lied and said his name was Esau; now he tells the truth, owns up to who he really is and receives the deepest blessing he had ever received.  He names that place Penuel, “the face of God.”

The Encounter

Then he goes across the river and proceeds with his whole household toward the land of his father where Esau lives.  He is afraid the whole time that when Esau sees him, Esau might kill him.  Almost as if this were the inspiration for Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son, Jacob sends a message ahead of him declaring that Esau is his lord and that he, Jacob, is his servant.  When Esau is within sight, he is still afraid.  He bows seven times as he approaches his long lost brother.  But his brother Esau runs to meet him and embraces him, and they both cry.

Esau says who are all these people and where did all these flocks come from?  Jacob explains that it is the blessing that he has received and that he wants to give it to Esau so that he can be on good terms again.  Esau says, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.”  Jacob insists saying this is a blessing I want to give you; it is I who have all that I want; for seeing you is like seeing God face to face.  This is the second time that Jacob saw God face to face and lived, rather than dying like he thought.

Esau says, again like the ringing words of a great people’s tale, “Let’s journey together; I will be right alongside of you.  Then Esau gives Jacob a blessing of his own providing for all his needs.

Is This Your Story?

In prayer we wrestle with God.  We are aware of our tendency to wander, aware of our desire to be true, aware of God’s love through it all!  As James Finley says, “We sit in the wordless wonder of realizing that God can no longer find the place where we stop and God begins. Nor can God find the place where God stops and we begin. Nor is God inclined to try to do so. For [God’s] child has come home.”[i]  Seeing God face to face!!!

October 19, 2013
Sts. Clare & Francis ECC
29th Sunday of the Year
Genesis 32:22-31 (focus text)
2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:2
Luke 18:1-8
Homily by Frank Krebs

Photo by Tsutomu Takasu on flickr.com