Tag Archives: Marcion

Jacob Wrestling with God

Jacob wrestling

Our lectionary– the collection of readings we use day by day at Mass–concentrates on key stories of the bible, but unfortunately it leaves out a lot. We’re reading two key stories about the Patriarch Jacob from the Book of Exodus 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– seem far from edifying, however. 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. At least to me, 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 his 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 is there and we don’t know he’s 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, whether we like it or not, and we will have scars to prove it.

Newtown, CT, A Tragedy of Biblical Proportions

The tragedy at Newtown, CT, is a tragedy of biblical proportions. Near Christmas, one thinks of the slaughter of the innocents by Herod after Jesus was born, a story in Matthew’s gospel. Then there’s the family dimension: in the first book of the bible, Genesis, Cain kills his brother Abel.

I’d like to offer a few reflections on the violence of that tragedy and also some suggestions about what to do, besides praying for the recent victims and their families.

A development has gone on in our church over the centuries about violence in every form, from physical violence like murder, the death penalty, torture, rape, abortion, child abuse, war, to verbal violence like lying, bullying, verbal abuse.

The Old Testament is filled with violence. Some early Christians like Marcion (c AD144 ) actually wanted to suppress the Old Testament because God seemed be an angry God who condoned violence and acted violently. The ancient world was indeed a violent world. Yet we believe that God, who always works with what’s there– sought to bring that world gradually to peace and non-violence.

In the New Testament Jesus, the Word of God, revealed that purpose in a unique way. Jesus refused to use violence or force to achieve his kingdom. He rejected the concept of a warrior Messiah.  He taught us to love our enemies. “Peace, I leave you, my peace I give you.” In his passion and death on a cross he took on the violence of the world and responded to it with a non-violent love.

Our society, it seems safe to say, is becoming a coarser, more violent place. Violence has become acceptable. Let’s begin with life as the media sees it.

I know you can blame the media too much, but let me give you an example of what I mean. The website of the American Catholic Bishops offers an evaluation of current movies. I was looking at it the other day and if my recollections are right, 8 out of 10 current movies evaluated were considered overly violent.

On television there are programs that critics characterize as “Dark Television.”  They’re called that because the characters in these programs are not really “good” people in the real sense of the word. They don’t have much of a sense of morality, or loyalty or justice. They’ve adjusted to the dark world they inhabit every day. They’re not interested in striving for something better. They’re coolly cynical.

I don’t know too much about video games, but from what I hear I wonder if some of them encourage violence as the quickest and acceptable way to win and to get things done.

I don’t think it’s being intrusive, if you’re parents, or grandparents or anyone watching over kids, to know what they watch and tell them if it’s wrong and not healthy.

Our gospel for this 3rd Sunday of Advent is an interesting account of the teaching of John the Baptist. He gives simple directions to soldiers and tax-collectors. To soldiers, “Don’t bully people.” To tax-collectors, “Don’t cheat people.” According to John we grow by giving. “If you have two cloaks give one to someone who has none. If you have food, do the same.”

The other day on National Public Radio there was a piece on kids and empathy. The speakers seemed to say that we’re wired from the womb with the ability to give of ourselves and to empathize with others. Some people have it; some will never have it. I didn’t hear anything said about religion or a moral code or teaching young people how to live. Those things didn’t seem to figure at all.

I don’t buy that. I don’t believe that young man who went into that school was wired from birth to be like that. He may have been severely damaged socially, but did a violent culture also suggest the path he took? Something was missing in his life; someone was missing.  We can’t let that happen. The consequences are too horrible.