Learning to be Blessed

Friday, February 17, 2012 — Week of 6 Epiphany, Year Two

Janani Luwum, Archbishop of Uganda and Martyr, 1977

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 949)

Psalms 102 (morning) 107:1-32 (evening)

Genesis 32:22 – 33:17

1 John 3:1-10

John 10:31-42

By this time in our Genesis narrative, Jacob has been assured and reassured of God’s intention to bless him. His blessing had been pronounced by his father Isaac. Early in his sojourn he experienced a mystical insight in a dream. He has enjoyed the blessing of children and wealth in his conflicted relationship with Laban. Even Laban said he was warned by God not to harm Jacob because God had blessed Jacob.

But Jacob has never really trusted God. He has always made his own way, usually by cunning — willing to cheat, lie or deceive to advance his cause. His own self-serving strategies have alienated some of those closest to him.

He now finds himself caught by the consequences of his life’s pattern. When he recognized that Laban and his sons were showing signs of hostility toward him, Jacob stole away with his wives and possessions. He escaped a potentially violent showdown and made a truce between them, marking a boundary, like a demilitarized zone. He got away from one enemy he had made. But now, he must face his brother Esau, the one whose birthright he stole. Twenty years ago, the last words we heard from Esau were, “I will kill my brother Jacob.”

Jacob still does not trust God’s blessing. When he hears Esau is nearby with 400 men, he panics. He divides his party into two parts, hoping one will escape if Esau attacks. He begins sending flocks of livestock ahead, as if to purchase his brother’s good will. Then he spends a fevered, restless night alone, wrestling with a stranger. At daybreak, it seems that he is prevailing, when the man displaces Jacob’s hip. Jacob still holds on, demanding a blessing. The man renames him “Israel,” meaning “The one who strives with God” or “God strives.” Jacob asks for the stranger’s name. That will not be given. But Jacob is blessed (again), and realizes it is God with whom he has been wrestling.

And Esau? Big ole Esau. He had no devious or violent intentions. He let go of the past long ago. He embraces his long departed brother with affection and tears. Esau has enough, and doesn’t need more. Apparently it had not crossed Jacob’s mind that some people are not like him.

So there is reconciliation. And Jacob restores the birthright blessing he had wrongly taken saying to Esau, “Please accept my gift.” The word for gift is “berakah”; the same word for “blessing.” And though Esau is willing to stay with Jacob and live with him, graciously (or maybe warily, ever suspicious), Jacob finds a place to settle some distance away. If Jacob has actually matured, it could be that Jacob modestly creates the distance as a consequence of his earlier betrayal.

Now it is time for Jacob to trust God. He doesn’t have to scheme and conspire to make his way, but that has been the story of his life. His strivings have marked his character and left some mixed consequences in their wake. But God’s blessing has never left him.

Some of us catch on quickly. For others it takes a while. God loves us. God intends blessing for us. Yes, life is difficult and unsettled. Bad things do happen to good people. But God’s blessing is ever present upon us. God doesn’t lose patience. If it takes a whole life before we learn to trust, God will wait and even wrestle with us. But the blessing and the love is secure. Always.

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