Pentecost 22 – Genesis 32:22-30
Our text from Genesis tells you all you need to know about Jacob.
An unidentified man comes and wrestles with him during the night, so of course Jacob fights back. After all, fighting is what Jacob has done since birth when he grabbed the heel of Esau in an effort to get out of the womb first. Later he had to fight Laban for the wife he truly wanted. And now it is what Jacob is preparing to do in the morning, when in anticipation of a fight, he will go out to meet Esau and the 400 men who accompany him.
The man he is wrestling with turns out to be the pre-incarnate Christ, so before He leaves at daybreak, Jacob of course demands that He bless him. And this is what is always at the root of whatever Jacob does, it is always about what he wants for himself, and how many doors he has to break down to get it. He wanted the birthright from Esau, so he did whatever he had to in order to get it. He wanted the blessing from Isaac, so with the help of Rebekah, he lied and tricked his own father to get it. He wanted the best of Laban’s flocks and herds, so he did whatever he needed to in order to get it. And ironically, it is what will cause him grief later, when his own children trick him into thinking Joseph is dead.
This text summarizes the entire life of Jacob – fighting with others, and always on the lookout to get what he wants. No exceptions made, not even for family and friends.
And so this text as it turns out, is also about you and I. For who are we always on the lookout for? Not our neighbor, but ourselves. And like Jacob, we will do whatever is needed to get what we want.
Does it mean fighting with siblings to get what you want? Perhaps. Does it mean always being ready to go to war over any matter and never seek another option? Sure. But why should these even concern you? After all, you are only too willing to toss God Himself aside to get that which you desire.
Does it mean lying, cheating and stealing by any means necessary to get what we want? That is the Jacob way after all. So sure, you are more than willing to lie, cheat and deceive to achieve your goals. Will Commandments be broken? Will lifelong confessions be denied? Will others be confused by your blatant contradictions? Indeed they will be, but that again is the Jacob way.
And so, the story of Jacob’s life, is the story of your own life. Looking out for yourself, so that you might always get the upper hand, receive the greater prize, achieve the goal that you want; and everyone else, whether they be family, friends, or total strangers is out of luck.
And if it that means sending your entire family across the river into the night; where if found by Esau they will face almost certain death while you stay back to see which way things go; then so be it. That is the Jacob way after all; and more often than not, that is your way as well.
And yet, at the same time, this text from Genesis tells us all we need to know about God as well.
God comes and wrestles with Jacob, and at the touch of a finger, Jacob’s hip is immediately put out of socket. Amazing to be sure, not just that the mere touch of a finger can permanently paralyze someone, but that God, who is all powerful, should wrestle with Jacob and not kill him.
Amazingly, God allows Himself to endure this contest with Jacob, allows Himself to roll around in the dirt and rocks, allows Himself to be almost beaten by Jacob; and yet God spares Jacob’s life.
Just as God spared Jacob when Esau was furious that he stole the birthright, and the blessing from Isaac. Just as God was with Jacob when Laban tricked him to enhance his own status. Just as God will be with Jacob when famine strikes and he must go to Joseph in Egypt.
Jacob lies, cheats and steals his way through life; he is the most conflicted character in Genesis; and by far the easiest to root against; and yet God is still with him, just as He was with Adam and Noah; just as He was with Abraham and Isaac; just as He will be with Joseph; just as He is now so with you.
Well do we remember the sinner side of Jacob; well do we remember the sinner sides of a lot of people around us; and well do they remember your sinner side as well. And yet, what does God remember?
God could just as easily strike you down as He could Jacob, and yet He does not. He builds you up in His grace and mercy, and delivers to you the forgiveness of sins.
How can you be sure of this? Because of the mark that God leaves upon you.
Jacob, your neighbors, even you yourself, are marked by God as His children, recipients of His grace, heirs of His mercy.
Jacob’s mark is a dislocated hip; and one can imagine that as he walked to see Esau that morning; and some years later when he walked to Egypt to see Joseph again, each time that leg hit the ground, and each time that pain shot up, Jacob remembered that night on the banks of the Jabbok, when he encountered the living God, who came to him and had grace and mercy upon him, even though he was most certainly not worthy of it.
And yet that is what this text tells us about God. Could God have killed Jacob that night? Indeed he could have; and there is no shortage of evidence that would not justify the action. And yet, He spares Jacob. He blesses Jacob, and then allows him to rise and go forth. He forgives Jacob. He looks on Jacob with a love no one else ever has, and He sends him forth as His own child.
Now the mark placed upon you is a little different, but no less significant: in the waters of Holy Baptism, the sign of the holy cross is traced upon your forehead and upon your heart by the finger of the pastor. For though you deserve death and hell when you come and stand in the presence of almighty God, you instead receive forgiveness, life and salvation by virtue of your baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection.
That is the God way, that He comes to you, poor, miserable, sinner, and looks upon you with a love that no one else ever has; and He sends you forth to live as His chosen and redeemed child.
Imagine that if every time you faced a temptation, you felt a finger trace a cross on your forehead; if each time your faith was challenged while watching the news, or talking to a friend, you felt the trace of a cross being made on your heart; or that if each morning when you rise and each evening when you go to bed, you made the sign of the cross upon your own forehead; reminding you of that day, whether it was many years ago, or just a short time ago, that the sign of the cross was made upon you, and you were claimed as God’s own child.
This is the turning point in Jacob’s life; in the morning he goes out to meet Esau, and instead of war, there is reconciliation. Instead of slaughtering his family, Esau greets his new nephews and nieces with the sign of peace. Instead of going away as enemies, they leave as brothers in faith.
For Jacob is now Israel; he has been changed forever. God has come to him and declared you are mine; you are now to live as my chosen and redeemed child.
Will Jacob falter again? He will indeed; he is far from the ideal parent. And yet even there, God forgives. He comes to him and announces once and forever that Jacob, that Israel, is still His chosen and precious child; and that he goes forth to live as a child of the light, a child of the way that leads to eternal life.
And so this is the turning point in your own life. You leave here this morning not at war with your neighbors, but at peace; for you have been forgiven. Your struggles and burdens are no more; for the mark of the cross has been made upon you.
You may not receive a new name, but you have been changed forever. For God has come to you and declared that the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus is for you; that His suffering and His death and His resurrection now counts for you.
Will you falter again? You will indeed; you will sin in your own vocation; you will falter in your life of faith in one way or another. But have no fear; you are still a child of God; He still comes to you in the water of Baptism and in the bread and wine of Lord’s Supper; He still calls you to follow along the way that leads to eternal life.
That is the Israel way; that is your way; that is the God way.