Lectionary readings for Oct 20. Genesis 32:22-31, Ps 121, 2 Tim. 3:14-4:5, Luke 18:1-8
The idea of wrestling all night isn't completely strange. It is at night, when bodies are still and distractions have quieted, that our minds conjure up adversaries. The worries and conflicts of the day have louder voices at night and the resultant inner struggle keeps us from sleep. Jacob is scheduled to face his estranged and powerful brother Esau the next day and he knows he's the one in the wrong. No wonder he's up all night wrestling!
A mysterious man wrestles with him, a man whose identity is never revealed. Both commentaries I looked at say this story remains unclear and open to interpretation. Perhaps that is why it so powerfully captures our imaginations. It doesn't quite satisfy. It is a lot like the things we struggle with, we sometimes aren't quite able to name what is wrong, or who the adversary is. All we know is that we struggle. There isn't a clear line between victory and hurt. For Jacob, his refusal to quit struggling results in both blessing and curse. He is blessed by the stranger and given the name 'Israel' which means something like 'God preserves.' He is also permanently crippled by his struggles. He limps for the rest of his life.
So many of life's wrestlings produce mixed results. Like Jacob, we often don't see God in it all, until the dust clears a bit. At the end of this little story, Jacob says he has seen God face to face and yet "my life is preserved." I have to wonder if he fought too hard. If Jacob had given in and spoken to the stranger earlier, could he have been blessed and avoided the injury? Why did it have to come to a fight? I've always kind of assumed (and heard) that Jacob's refusal to give up here was admirable, but I question that. If Jacob hadn't always been fighting and taking the best for himself, he may not have had enemies in the first place. He may not have needed the poke in the hip to put him in his rightful place. Then again, there is value in struggle too. When something is important, a "stick to it" ethic allows us to fight through to eventually find answers and perhaps keeps us looking for God.
How does this story speak to you?