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Jacob is a weird and kind of particular character in our Genesis story. There was never a good day that Jacob didn’t try to make about him. And it wasn’t someone else’s bad day that Jacob didn’t try to benefit from.
Jacob’s twin brother was born first his name Esau, means hairy, and describes what he looked like when he was born, probably through adulthood. Jacob’s name means heel because when he was born he was holding on to Esau’s heel. It can also mean to follow behind, to supplant, to overreach, cheat, trickster. Not the most positive naming.
There were blessings and inheritance that come with being the firstborn son, Esau. Our story tells two stories, where Jacob manipulates and tricks the blessings away from Esau. The second time was with the help of his mother they went to Isaac, the only son of Abraham and Sarah, now old, blind, and dying. He calls for his eldest son Esau so he can bestow a blessing once Esau goes hunts meats and brings back stew. And their mother Rebecca decided Jacob needed to have the blessing, dressed Jacob up in goat hair because his brother was hairy, and had Jacob bring stew to his father, pretending to be Esau, and Jacob received the blessing.
And Jacob is not an idiot, his brother was murderously mad, and ran. God came to him in a dream on his way to his uncle’s house, his uncle got the better of him and tricked him. Then Jacob turned around and tricked him right back, until it was time for Jacob to leave his uncle’s (/father-in-law’s) home, with his two wives and consorts and slaves and Cattle and children.
God had promised Jacob that he would return to the land and fulfill the blessings, the promises that God had given Abraham, that they would be a people, a nation, and that it would come through Jacob. It was a promise that God gave Jacob even though he tricked his way to it. And so, it was time for Jacob to return to meet his brother and to be prepared to be part of the next step of fulfilling these promises that God had made.
So Jacob sends an envoy ahead with resources and animals as a gift to his brother, to smooth the path, and without any explanation, Esau refuses the gifts and sends the servants away. As we enter our reading, we don’t know how angry Esau is, we’re on the edge of our seats, waiting to see what will come next with these 2 warring brothers.
Then our reading. In a twist on Jacob’s story, Jacob goes before God and prayer whereas normally for Jacob we have seen God approach him. But here, Jacob lifts up on prayer his true wants, his desires, his needs. He holds onto the old promises and demands that they are present in his reality. This is part of what it means for Jacob to be in relationship with God, to be honest and vulnerable, to have feelings of disappointment and fear, to give them over and not give into them.
It is a model for us, to be real, to be honest, to be vulnerable, to be angry, to have needs and wants and desires and declare them before God. Not that we can control the outcome but that it is part of being in relationship, whether with the divine or a partner or a friend, to be honest in that way.
There is this podcast that releases full audiobooks and like good full audiobooks, histories biographies and yes fiction. And I listen to a diversity of podcast on a variety of topics but the last two weeks this podcast that does full audiobooks published for free the unabridged all seven Harry Potter books. And yes there is controversy attached to Harry Potter author but I’m pretty sure I’m reading them for free so like, there’s that. So yes I have spent a lot of my free time re-listening to Harry Potter the first five books.
In case you missed this very culturally relevant story from 20 years ago Harry Potter is a wizard and it turns out there is a villain who’s out to kill him and like all good young adult kind of dystopian novels it is going to be a child who saves them.
And the story starts with Harry Potter basically in 6th grade and finishes when he’s about 18. And alongside all of the things that come with growing up and being a teenager come having to save all of his friends and the whole of the Wizarding World. With the author, she who shall not be named, did well presenting these conflicts between students and between Cosmic evil and between structures and authorities within our lead character Harry Potter himself.
He struggled with himself with who he was becoming and who he ought to be and he struggled with the forces of evil that were trying to breed hatred and violence, he struggled with these authorities and systemic powers that were either woefully neglectful, complacent, or outright violent and were mostly acting to supporting the structure itself, all the systems of Oppression, and he struggled with his friends for how to live in this world together to enact forgiveness and Reconciliation
Our story today givens us some of those same options. Some will say that it was an actual person, but it was Esau who met his brother in the middle of the night so they could fight it out before they have their moment of reconciliation that is to come. Maybe Esau had to leave before Daybreak because he didn’t really want anyone to know he had snuck out to meet Jacob. Have you ever been in such a conflict with someone struggling over what to do next, over what the future is going to be, over how you’re going to move forward together? It might be with a sibling as you disagree over the home your parents died in and all of its contents. It might be over how you do don’t like each other’s choice of Partners. It might be with a partner in marriage or in business and finding the path forward to be one in which you have completely different visions and totally different paths
And there are some who think that Jacob met an angel or some sort of holy being maybe even a less benevolent holy being. Maybe this Divine being is how the outside world is trying to influence us in the way of good or evil of love and kindness or the opposite–some kind of external evil that is trying to convince us what of what is good and bad, right and wrong, just and unjust. Or trying to convince us that we only need to look out for ourselves. This is our work of learning to live in community, seeing the Divine in the face of another, realizing we can not be out here in the world as if it doesn’t matter how we live, how we care for each other. This is wrestling with the systems of capitalism that tell us that it is all about us, the racism and sexism that tell us we are more important than another.
There are those who would suggest that it was Jacob wrestling with his own self, that in a dream or in the night Jacob wrestled with Jacob. He wrestled with who he was, who he had been, who we wanted to be. This is the work of therapy, of dealing with trauma, with being honest about who we really are, what our impact has been on those around us. This is naming all the wrong, and dealing with is, facing it, and offering yourself grace enough to try again. It’s naming how our childhood, how the hurts inflicted on us have impacted who we are today, naming it, offering ourselves grace and learning to live differently.
And there are those, like Jacob it seems, who believe he wrestled with God. It’s our doubt, it’s our certainty cracking and questioning the whole building. It might be the cognitive dissonance of the world you see and the one that some preachers have given. It might be the struggle of following the rules and still having a diagnosis, a prognosis, a family that still needs us and an unknown future.
We wrestle with the unknown as much as we do with what we do know. We wrestle as we try to understand how the world is changing around us, even if it is just our corner of the world. We wrestle to try to hold on to who we understand we are even as we know we are being changed. We wrestle to hold onto hope, when we’re not even sure what that means.
And here’s the thing, when we wrestle, we grow, we grow stronger, we learn about ourselves, we make choices.
And I wonder what it would be like, as we wrestle with who we are, with our health, our pasts, our futures, our understanding of right and wrong, our partners, our place in the universe, I wonder what it would be like to hold on until we have a blessing, until we receive a blessing.
I am not saying that everything happens for a reason. I am not saying that your struggles, your suffering, your challenges, or your pain is part of God’s plan. And I am not condemning those For Whom the the pain is so much that they do not see hope and cannot see the purpose of the struggle, for I will advocate for the fight, I don’t know that pain.
But, I wonder what we would find if we held on believing that there would be a blessing in the end: some gift of love, new understanding of ourselves, reconciliation, justice, community, hope, a new name–beloved of God, one who struggles and still loves.
Here’s the thing though, Jacob left with a limp. He was not unchanged by the struggle. He bore the wound, he carried a new name. There were blessings and there was change, loss, and grief.
You know this! We can’t live in denial that we are getting older and cannot move as we did when we were children.
We can struggle with illness and or just getting older, and know we are finite creatures who are not going to live forever, that doesn’t mean there aren’t blessings to be had–love shared, forgiveness offered, stories retold.
There will be gains and there will be losses, there is a blessing and there will be a limp. you will leave changed, there will be grief, you cannot move forward without leaving something behind.
So may you find a blessing in the struggle, may you grieve what you need to leave behind, may you carry the scars with honor, that you struggle and you prevailed and you are named Beloved.