This week's final encounter with God that is remembered and recreated is the story of Jacob wrestling with God/an angel. In previous examples, seemingly impossible, life-changing interruptions enacted by God have been remembered and re-enacted through rituals; God's liberation through the observance of Passover, God's vindication of Jesus, by Sunday worship, Jesus's great act of reconciliation through communion, God motion of solidarity with us through baptism. In today's story, the life-affirming and changing event is not remembered and re-enacted through a ritual, but through a name change.
You recall that Jacob's life is, well, complex. He is a child of promise. He is NOT Isaac's first-born son, but the second of twins, his brother, Esau, arriving first. But Jacob is the son upon whom God's promise rests. Still, Jacob, under his mother's tutelage, is manipulative and conniving and underhanded. Much like we saw with Sarai, the promise is treated as an object to covet and a privilege to exploit than a blessed gift treated with humility and gratitude. Jacob in effect steals the birthright from Esau, sending the entire family into chaos and alienation. Both son's leave, Jacob in order to avoid Esau's vengeance and Esau to seek his fortune without a blessing. Jacob's life continues on in much the same way. He is manipulated by and manipulates others. Today's story takes place on the eve of his reunion with his brother Esau. He is anxious and frightened.
Jacob is confronted by a strange being (God?) The wrestling match which ensues is most assuredly a metaphor for Jacob's life. He is a child of promise, bearing a great gift. But he is strong-willed and seeks mastery over all whom he encounters. He cannot accept that God has gifted him, but sees everything in life, sees life itself, as a competition to win, as a prize to wrestle from others. Life is not a gift at all. And this oppositional and antagonistic outlook on life causes Jacob to wrestle with everyone, even the God who desires to gift him. Because life and everything in it must be mastered, Jacob is alienated from wholesome relationship.
Jacob is not bested in this wrestling match, but neither does he win. He is injured. Jacob is however changed by this draw. His name is changed. And for the purposes of our reflections this week, we ponder how it is that the unexpected interruptions and impossible epiphanies of God in our lives changes us and shapes us and names us. How do they teach us to live? How do we savor these moments and relive them such that they continue to shape us? For the story of Jacob teaches us something. We cannot shape our own lives. It is not something we create or master. And all the stories that we reflected on this week teach us that we learn to live life to its fullest when we allow God to shape us through remembering and re-enacting and reflecting upon God's presence with us and God's call forming us.