October 16, 2016

22nd Sunday after Pentecost

Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 121

Luke 18:1-8


Brangelina is no more. For those of you who don’t know who or what Brangelina is, it is a name given by fans to Hollywood power couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. After two years of marriage, and many more years as a couple, they decided to end their marriage.

This is actually not to bad for Hollywood standard. The record of the shortest celebrity marriage, as far as I know, is held by Britney Spears and Jason Alexander. Their marriage lasted only two days.

Indeed, according to recent statistic, roughly one in three marriages in Australia nowadays will end up in a divorce. And, on average, those marriages last for 12 years.[1] This is the real reason why Rita and I got married not in Australia, but in Indonesia and then in Singapore; you know, to ward off bad luck.

I’ve heard some people saying that the reason why divorce is so common nowadays is because people just don’t try hard enough. Now, I don’t think that most people who make the decision to be separated from his/her spouse do it lightly. And, I also don’t think that if only people try hard enough, they will be able to solve all the issues in their marriages. Unfortunately, there are things in life that cannot be fixed even when we try hard enough.

But, I think I understand why those people make the comment. Any relationship is a hard work (I know this because I’m in one right now). Anyone who thinks that once you enter into a relationship with someone you love, you’ll live happily ever after is fooling him/herself.

Any relationship, if it’s real, is hard. There is, however, a relationship that is not hard, and that is a ‘phony’ relationship. A phony relationship is not hard because the relationship is fake. Both parties, in this kind of relationship, are not giving their-selves fully and truthfully to one another. What they have in their relationship is thus only pretence. That’s why such relationship is not hard because in such relationship, people are not dealing with the truth about themselves and others. But, a real relationship is hard because we are dealing with real people; people with real joy as well as pain; gifts as well as brokenness; dreams as well as limitations.

If human relationships are difficult, how come we often expect something different in our relationship with God? If God is real, then our relationship with Him can also be difficult. If you think that having a relationship with God is easy, try to read your Bible once again. There you’ll find how the people of God often argued, rebelled, even fought against God and His will.

Our two passages today, from the book of Genesis and the Gospel of Luke, show to us the kind of complexity that we can have in our encounter with the living God. In the book of Genesis, God appeared as a stranger that challenged Jacob in a grueling wrestling match that lasted all night long. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus depicted God as an unjust judge who concerned only about himself.

Now, some people may ask: how was it possible that God wrestled with a human being like Jacob and Jacob was victorious? Is not God almighty?

Bruce Almighty is a comedy movie about an ordinary man named Bruce who was asked by God to take over God’s position while God was on holiday. In one scene of the movie, using his newfound power as God, Bruce scared off a group of violent gangsters by sending bees that came out of his mouth. Could God not do a similar thing to Jacob?

Friends, the match between God and Jacob was possible because the relationship between them was real. God was in the match completely because God was in a relationship with Jacob completely. If God had entered the match as a giant or Superman or as Bruce Almighty, than it would have not only been an unfair match; it would have been fake as well. What kind of match is it when one side is obviously has an unfair advantage over the other? If that’s the kind of match that God and Jacob had, the relationship between them must not be real.

But, God was not half-hearted when He wrestled with Jacob. Their struggle was real. The bruises and pains were real. This must not come as a surprise to us Christians. After all, in Jesus Christ, God became one of us and lived in our midst not half-heartedly, but completely. Jesus was not half-God and half-human. No. He was fully God and fully human.

As such, he TRULY suffered on the cross. His pain and suffering there was real. He was not faking it. And, he genuinely suffered the pain of death because his love to us was real, not phony. Likewise, God truly suffered the pain and anguish in the wrestle against Jacob because His love to Jacob was real.

But, regardless of the difficulties that we face in our relationship, for any relationship to work, there must be points of contacts. Each party of the relationship must be able to influence, not control, the other.

In the wrestling match between God and Jacob, Jacob was clearly able to influence God. Not only he was victorious in the match; he was also able to ‘make’ God bless him.

Of course, it was a limited influence because God still retained God’s independence. When Jacob asked for God’s name, Jacob didn’t get the answer that he wanted; the answer was reflected back on him. Indeed, in the Hebrew mindset, to know one’s name is to be able to control the person who has the name. So, God not only knew Jacob’s name, He gave a new name for Jacob; yet, Jacob still didn’t know God’s name. In other words, God still had the authority over Jacob, but not the other way around.

Yet, even though Jacob did not know God’s name, he was still, to a certain degree, able to influence God. After a long and hard tussle, he had what he wanted all along: a blessing from God.

In the same way, the widow, in Jesus’ parable, was able to change the mind of the unjust judge. She may not be physically wrestling with the judge, but she was wrestling with him emotionally nonetheless. And, after a long and hard tussle, the judge finally gave in and she had what she wanted.

Now, again, some of you may wonder why did Jesus describe God as an unjust-judge? I think Jesus used an unjust judge as an image for God because he wanted to make his parable as realistic and honest as possible. Are there not times in our relationship with God that we feel that we are dealing with a judge who is stubborn and self-centered? If you read the book of Job in the Bible, you’ll find that even Job, a righteous man in his heart and deeds, felt that God had acted unjustly towards him.

Now, I’m not saying that God is stubborn or self-centered like us, but we may think or feel that God is like that. There are times when we may feel that God is against us or ignores us or even acts unjustly towards us. But, today, we are reminded that in those times, we are not to give up, but to be even more persistent in our prayers and spiritual journey as Jesus’ disciples.

Friends, once again, any relationship, if it is real, is difficult. In his best-selling book, The Road Less Travelled, American author and psychiatrist, M. Scott Peck begins his book with a short sentence: Life is difficult. If I am to write a book about relationship, I would like to begin the book with similar words. But, instead of saying that life is difficult, I would say that relationship is difficult.
Relationship with God can also be difficult. We may not get what we want even after we have asked for a long time. We may pray and pray and pray, and God seems like an unresponsive partner in our marriage. We may even think that God has acted recklessly without any regard of our feeling or even well-being.

But, today, we are reminded that when we do feel like that, do not give up the relationship altogether. We are asked to ‘try harder’ and persevere in our relationship with God.

I can’t promise you that if you are persistent there will be an easy solution because there isn’t. The road ahead may still be difficult to travel. I can’t even promise you that you won’t be wounded or scarred as a result of your persistence. Even Jacob didn’t leave his wrestle with God unscathed. He was limping. He carried with him a battle scar.

Yet, he left the match not only with a blessing, but with a new self as well. He was Jacob no more, but Israel. He was a new man. A new future was opened before him and he entered it with a renewed faith.

As such, we too could emerge from our ‘tussle’ with God as a new person. We may be ‘wounded’ in the process, but we will emerge with a new self nonetheless.

So, hang in there. Don’t give up. Ask, seek, and knock again. And again.... and again... and again.... and again... Amen.

Rev. Toby Keva

[1] Mark McCrindle, ‘Half Of All Marriages End In Divorce', And Other Things You Thought Were True, on http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/mark-mccrindle/half-of-all-marriages-end-in-divorce-and-other-things-you-tho/ (08/02/2016 5:09 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST)