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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Tuesday, October 22, 2019           

Today’s Scripture Reading | Genesis 32:22–31

The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. (NRSV)

The struggle is real. Is the struggle with God? With an angel? With some other mysterious entity? The story is not clear. But the story is clear on one thing: the struggle is real.

Jacob has been struggling since birth, probably before. Clutching his twin’s heel at delivery, scheming to steal the birthright, working overtime to win the bride of his youth, Jacob’s entire existence is a struggle in which he plays dirty just as often as he is mistreated.

So now, on the eve of a reunion with his brother, the person with whom he has struggled the most, Jacob wrestles through the night with God-knows-who (or what). He doesn’t lose, but he doesn’t win either. He endures. He escapes with his life, but also with a limp and a new name.

It is my favorite thing about the Bible that characters like Jacob are related so unambiguously ambiguously in their character. For who other than a lying schemer and a below-the-belt punching rug rat could persevere as Jacob has done? And what kind of model is he to emulate? His vices are his virtues. They pursue him and they save him all at once. Maybe we aren’t meant to imitate him, though. Maybe we’re meant to admit and glory in the ways we simply are Jacob, Israel.

The struggle is not something separate from faith. The promise embodied in Jacob (and Rachel and Isaac and Rebekah and Abraham and Sarah) is that God is in the struggle with us, even when the struggle is with God.

God of the blessing and the struggle, stay with us through the dark of night, that we may greet the morning still intact and still with you. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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