Tag Archives: Jacob

Jacob Wrestling with God

Jacob wrestling

We’re reading two key stories about the Patriarch Jacob from the Book of Genesis this week. Jacob discovers the presence of God on his journey; then he wrestles with an angel.( Genesis 23, 33-43)

The other readings about Jacob from the bible– which our lectionary leaves out– are far from edifying. Jacob and his wife Rachel, Laban and his sons don’t seem to be the most honest people as they strike deals and, by hook or by crook, try to get the best deal they can get. They don’t seem like people you want for neighbors or do business with.

Yet, God promises Jacob what he promised Abraham:

“I, the LORD, am the God of your forefather Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you are lying I will give to you and your descendants. These shall be as plentiful as the dust of the earth, and through them you shall spread out east and west, north and south. In you and your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing. Know that I am with you; I will protect you wherever you go, and bring you back to this land. I will never leave you until I have done what I promised you.” (Genesis 22,1 8-28)

Even with those sublime words ringing in his ears, Jacob seems to go back to wheeling and dealing, as if the most important thing in the world is the extra sheep he’s going to wheedle out of his father in law.

The Old Testament certainly portrays real life. The early Christian scholar Marcion wanted to throw out the Old Testament altogether, because he claimed it wasn’t spiritual enough. God wouldn’t promise such great things to people like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives and relations and slaves.

I suppose that’s one reason for us to keep reading the Old Testament:  God works in real life. “God is a Potter; he works in mud,” the Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis entitled a chapter in one of his books.

Two things commentators note about the stories of Jacob. First, he doesn’t recognize the presence of God until afterwards. “When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he exclaimed, ‘Truly, the LORD is in this spot, although I did not know it!’” That’s an interesting discovery we all can make. God was there and we didn’t know he was there.–except afterwards.

Second, the commentator for the New American Bible says this about the story of Jacob wrestling in the dark at the river edge with the unknown figure: “The point of the tale seems to be that the ever-striving, ever-grasping Jacob must eventually strive with God to attain full possession of the blessing.”

God engages us and wrestles with us, “ever striving, ever grasping”, whether we like it or not, and we will have scars to prove it.

Joseph and his Brothers

For the next few days we read at Mass from Genesis about Joseph, the son of Jacob, who’s betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery in Egypt. He becomes one of Pharaoh’s chief advisors. When drought and famine strike the whole land,  Egypt is ready because Joseph has stored food to last through seven years of want.

When his brothers come looking for food, Joseph gives them food and saves them and their families from starvation. Eventually, Joseph brings Jacob, his father, and all his brothers and their families to ride out the famine in the safety of Egypt.

Like other Old Testament stories, the story of Joseph offers lessons simple and profound.  God saves his people, we’re reminded, even in a world of betrayals and natural disasters.  It’s also a story of forgiveness: Joseph forgives his brothers for betraying him and shows them God’s mercy.

It’s also a story to reflect on immigration and global solidarity. The Egyptians obviously let outsiders like Joseph’s brothers, nomads living beyond its borders, into their country. Why not build a wall around Egypt and keep strangers out?

Maybe an act of practical politics, some think. The nomads living on the borders of Egypt and on its trade routes were important allies to have in place with powerful empires to the north. You need to have good neighbors. One reason the Byzantine empire fell so quickly to Moslem invaders later on, historians say, was because it lost the support of Bedouin tribes on its borders.

These days, Pope Francis is stressing the “interconnectedness” of all life on our planet. The human family and nature are connected, for good or for ill. A story from Egypt has its lessons for today.