AUGUST 3 Reflection

8th Sunday after Pentecost (August 3 • 2014)

‘Fight or Flight’

BIBLE READING
Genesis 32:3-31

REFLECTION

Jacob had been running away all of his life. We may even say that ‘running-away’ had become second nature to him. His deceitfulness and trickeries were the main weapons in his arsenal, but they were also his stumbling blocks. Using his tricks, he survived many years as a runaway, even managed to amass great wealth. Yet, his tricks had also broken the relationships with the people dearest to him.

First, he had to run away from his family, especially from his brother, Esau, who tried to kill him after he stole Esau’s birthright with trickeries (Genesis 27:41-28:5). He found refuge in the house of his uncle, Laban, who also later became his father-in-law; but, again, he had to run away from Laban whom he had cheated (Genesis 31:19-24).

But, we are wrong to assume that running away was Jacob’s nature. His name in Hebrew, (y, kv) was close to the word for 'to wrestle' (y’vk).[1] He was born to be a ‘wrestler’. He may have been weaker than Esau; he may have been more ‘domesticated’ than his brother, but Jacob definitely was not a weak person. Even in his mother’s womb, he tried to wrestle Esau to be the first-born. He did not succeed. He only managed to grab Esau’s heel (Genesis 19:24-26).

But something happened to him in the desert when he was alone. That dark night was his second ‘womb’. Once again, just like within his mother’s womb, he wrestled with all of his might. His Opponent, however, was much more formidable than his brother; his Opponent this time was the Holy One of Israel Himself.

But, this time, Jacob did not only manage to hold his Opponent's heel; this time, he managed to pin Him down and force his Opponent to bless him. He was Jacob no more, but Israel, because he had struggled with people and with God, and he prevailed.

Indeed, in ancient times, dawn was an important time. It was the time between night and day; between the old day and the new day. It was the time when transformation happened.[2] When the dawn finally broke, Jacob was indeed reborn as a new man.

But it was not really his new self. It was more accurate to say that Jacob finally became what he was supposed to be. He was born a wrestler; a person who was not supposed to run away from troubles, but stand strong in the face of problems. His true identity was restored when he ran no more, but faced reality.

But the transformation had actually begun before the fierce contest between him and God. It had begun when he ordered his family to cross the river, Jabok. Before that, he was still his old cunning self. He sent his animals as gifts to his brother, Esau. He hoped that the gifts would appease Esau.

But, after sending the gifts ahead of him, instead of running away with his family, Jacob chose to go to the direction where Esau was coming. He decided to run no more and meet his brother. He did not know whether his brother had forgiven him or not. He did not know whether his brother still intended to kill him or not. What he did know was that the time had come for him to make amends to Esau for his wrongdoings in the past.

When he was standing in the dock as the accused, Richard Ryan of Ohio had two options: telling the truth and confessing his crime, or telling a lie. He knew that, according to the law, the crime that he had committed was punishable by a severe penalty: life in prison. But, he also knew that, six days after his arrest, he had accepted Christ into his life. So, standing in front of the judge, he knew that he could not stand for Christ and lie at the same time. He chose the only choice possible: admitting his crime. As the result, he was punished accordingly: 20 years in jail.

Richard found the experience of confessing his crime as the most difficult task he had ever faced in his life. Yet, ironically, he also felt that it was the most rewarding experience he had ever had. By confessing his crime, he began the journey of working with God, a journey that would sustain him for 20 years within one of the toughest prisons in America.

After his release, looking back to his time in prison, Richard knows now that he would never have had the strength in prison if he had not made the difficult choice, at the beginning, to confess his crime and admit his wrongdoings. By confessing his crime, in front of God and the Judge, Richard found that he had received his reward: an intimate relationship with God; a relationship that had sustained him for many years in the prison, and for many years to come.[3]

Jacob’s encounter with God was also the beginning of his reconciliation with his brother, Esau. Without him facing God in the desert, he would never be able to face the ‘demons’ that had haunted him, namely his fear of facing his own brother and his guilt about his wrongdoings in the past. His only redemption was admitting his mistakes and daring to accept the consequences.

Indeed, after seeing his brother and be forgiven, Jacob declared that seeing his brother’s face was like seeing God’s face (Genesis 33:11). These words remind us of the name that he gave to the place where he wrestled with God: Peniel, the place where he had seen God, face to face, but was still alive (Genesis 32:30).

Experiencing such reconciliation with his brother must have felt like experiencing the very presence of God Himself. For Jacob, the restored relationship with his own brother must have been the greatest blessing that he had received in all of his life; and it only happened because he had the courage to face God first.

God changed Jacob’s name to Israel because he had fought against his own demons and prevailed. This changing of name perhaps is a reminder, for Jacob and for us, to no longer try to find easy answers or easy solutions to any problems that we face. This changing of name is a reminder, for Jacob and for us, to dare to take the difficult road of facing our own problems, instead of running away from them. The task may be daunting; it may feel as if we were facing the Almighty God Himself, but, if we persistent like Jacob, the blessing awaits us at the end of our struggle.

 

READINGS

  • Willis, Amy Merrill, Commentary on Genesis 32:22-31, on http://www.workingpreacher.org (August 3, 2014)
  • Biblical Background for August 3, 2014, in Seasons Fusion for Congregational Life - Year A Pentecost 1 (June 15 - August 31, 2014)

 

 

[1] Willis, Amy Merrill, Commentary on Genesis 32:22-31, on http://www.workingpreacher.org (August 3, 2014)

[2] Willis, Amy Merrill, Commentary on Genesis 32:22-31, on http://www.workingpreacher.org (August 3, 2014)

[3] Ryan, Richard, Confession, on http://devotional.upperroom.org (June 4, 2008)