A lesson – Genesis 32:22-32
The same night he 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. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.
Both genealogies in Matthew and Luke take Jesus’ family lineage through the patriarchs and matriarchs: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel. Jacob, the son of Isaac and Rebekah, struggled even in the womb with his twin brother Esau. The shadow of this struggle remained with him through his life, and the pattern of sibling rivalry played out in his own children when his favored son Joseph was attacked by his brothers, thrown into a pit, and sold off into slavery.
The great patriarchs and matriarchs of our faith could sometimes muster within themselves bravery, fearlessness, and heroic trust in God. And, they are also the very icons of dysfunctional families.
This personal family struggle finds some theological language when Jacob literally wrestles with God all night long. He sends his family and flocks away, fords the River Jabbok, and encounters a great struggle with some mysterious force. He can’t win the struggle, but he does manage to extract a blessing. It is at the Jabbok that Jacob “sees God face to face.”
Struggle is an integral part of life. Everyone struggles. Each person’s struggle is a little different. Sometimes it’s with family. Sometimes it’s with illness. Sometimes it’s with war. Sometimes it’s with God. Struggle is so normative that it’s woven into the story of the great patriarchs and matriarchs of our faith.
Even into Jesus’ family tree.
And sometimes, even when we least expect it, through the struggle we can find a blessing.
O God, in Jesus we meet you face to face; help us see your Presence among us when life is so hard and the day’s news is hardly bearable, and offer us a blessing, that somehow we might be a blessing to the world. Amen.