Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 29) 17 October 2010
(Genesis 32:22-31 Psalm 121 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 Luke 18:1-8)
“Wrestling With God”
We’ve witnessed a miraculous event this past week!
I simply cannot imagine anything more terrifying, grim and wretched than to be sealed beneath 700,000 tons of rock, deep within the bowels of the earth, damp, dark and dust-filled, even if you know rescuers are working slavishly 2000 feet above you.
The stories from this past week have been filled with ecstatic joy! This wasn’t the case several weeks ago!
I cannot imagine not knowing when the entire mountain will collapse at any moment; also not knowing when the slightest break could force the rescue effort to be abandoned!
I absolutely cannot imagine being one of those miners who spent 69 days underground in what they are now calling the “Miracle of the Mine” in Chile! We call it is a miracle now, but it wasn’t a miracle those first 17 days.
The water tasted of oil. The milk was sour. Half a bottle cap of tuna was their daily ration of food.
This is a story of the refusal of 33 men below ground and countless people above ground to surrender the hope that there was a way to make good on the desire and conviction that these men would not be entombed alive.
“I wrestled with God; then I wrestled with the devil,” said one man, fighting himself not to give in to despair.
The story of Jacob’s wrestling is the story of every human being who has been to the underworld of life and risen again. It is the story of those who, like Jacob, have wrestled with God and prevailed—hung on, stayed the course, dug deep down into their souls and found life where no life seemed to exist.
Wrestling with God sounds something like this: “Why is God doing this to me?” or, “Where was God when I needed Him?” or, I’m so angry at God because this happened to my spouse, my mother, my friend,” or, “I’m told God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, but I don’t believe that anymore.”
Let’s take a closer look at the Jacob story. This story of Jacob wrestling must be set in the larger context of the Saga of Jacob. This encounter takes place the night before Jacob is to see his brother Esau for the first time in 20 years. Back then Esau wanted to kill Jacob and for all Jacob knows, he still wants to do the same. In fact, Jacob has just heard that Esau is coming to meet him with 400 men! It s does not sound like the makings of a happy reunion, and Jacob is terrified!
Dreading the encounter with Esau, Jacob first has an encounter on the banks of the river Jabbok, wrestling with a “man” until daybreak. Even after the stranger puts Jacob’s hip out of joint, he will not let go until he gives him a blessing.
To push against God is to push against a part of one’s own person!
And so this story jerks us back to reality. The writer Frederick Buechner1 characterizes Jacob’s divine encounter at Jabbok as the “magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God.” Similarly, in her book, Scarred By Struggle, Transformed By Hope, the Benedictine nun and writer Joan Chittister2 uses the Jacob story an example of the spiritual struggle each one of us goes through as we set our lives in the context of faith, and reminds us that this is the price to be paid for becoming new!
Jacob does what all of us must do if, in the end, we too are to become transformed. He confronts in himself the things that are wounding him, admits his limitations, accepts his situation, and rejoins the world with a renewed sense of hope and faith in God.
Chittister describes hope as “…not a matter of waiting for things on the outside to get better; but rather, about getting better inside despite what is going on outside.” Hope is about believing in the future we cannot see because we can trust in God. It is about holding on when holding on seems pointless.
Hope is what emerges deep within the bowels of a mountain waiting for one more day even when there is no light, even when there is not an ounce of proof in the suffocating blackness that it might be possible for daylight ever to come again.
When Jacob went hand to hand with God, he emerged victorious and wounded, but he emerged with a blessing.
The events of these past several weeks coming out of Chile remind us that we live in a world where Jacob’s struggle at Jabbok is still going on. We all wrestle with God, and many of us are marked by wounds we have sustained from our struggles. Our struggles are not as spectacular and will not be newsworthy to have CNN on the scene, but ours are no less real. We may well struggle with God through the night, at a dark time of our lives, but our God today is the same as in the Jacob story. At daybreak God only wants to bless us. God’s final word is always one of blessing. Such is the final word of the story. Such is the ongoing conviction and promise of our faith. Amen.
1 Secrets in the Dark. Frederick Buechner. 2006.
2 Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope. Joan D. Chittister. 2003.