August 2, 2020 – Genesis 32:22-31 and Matthew 14:13-21
July 21, 2020 by Rev. Dr. Neal Presa
Enter house left, Jacob. Enter house right, God in human form as an unnamed man. Director’s rubric: wrestle until daybreak.
This well-known story of Jacob and his household crossing Jabbok and in his time of rest and reflection an unnamed man wrestled with him and he with the man. This is theatrics akin to the World Wrestling Federation. Jacob, we’re told, was unrelenting in holding on to this man. As Jacob was being given the new name Israel, the unnamed man said to Jacob, “You shall no longer be called Jacob but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Indeed, we know of Jacob’s life before and after this dramatic scene – it’s one of continual striving and wrestling with Laban, with Esau, with himself, with God. It’s unrelenting. His was a grappling of the divine-human drama.
As with the familiar scene of Jesus and the thousands of hungry families and individuals and the disciples, there is divine-human dramatic wrestling. There’s a vast crowd of hunger in front of them and the disciples only see what they see: scarce resources, the limitations of what is visibly possible, the disciples exhortation to Jesus to have him send the hungry away so they could fend for themselves. The disciples are striving/wrestling/grappling with themselves and with Jesus. Jesus, the ever compassionate and wise Teacher, grappled and strived with them. Don’t lean on your fear of the scarcity, don’t cast aside the hungry who are right in front of you, don’t be so quick to send them away. Jesus teaches elsewhere that he is the Bread of Life (John 6:35), the Manna from heaven, who gives what we need.
God has always wrestled with humans because of our tendency towards pride, prejudice, fear, violence, greed. Had Jacob been at a revival meeting or a confessional booth, he would have had to come to God multiple times for his deception, his conflicts with his brother and his father in-law, and so much more. God wrestled with Jacob. Jesus wrestled with those who call him Teacher, who proclaim him Lord. Jesus wrestles with the reality that when thousands are hungry and his knowledgeable disciples should know better than to respond with “send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”
The Lord has a different “so that.” God has an alternative “now what.” It’s this: Jacob, because you have wrestled, because you have seen the face of God, you are renamed Israel, which means your life is changed forever, which means be reconciled to your brother, reckon with the truth, confess, repent, make amends, and teach your own family about the arduous and necessary work of restoring right relationships with humanity. The righting of relationships is called justice.
That’s the “now what” for Jesus and his disciples. Disciples, care for and love the hungry. See to it that even when the values of Caesar and Pilate cast aside the hungry and the vulnerable, that’s not the way of kingdom of God, that’s not the way of Jesus Christ. Feed the hungry. Welcome them because all are welcome in the kingdom of God. Work towards re-ordering the wrong priorities and misplaced values of a world that allows so many to go hungry. The righting of systems and values towards God’s kingdom goals so that all are fed is called justice.
Now what? Go and do likewise.