Jacob was all alone. That's the way the Old Testament lesson. For in this lesson, found in the 32nd chapter of Genesis, Jacob has sent his family and possessions to the other side of the River Jabbok and he is now alone has he prepares for his crossing.
Before arriving at this crossing, Jacob had lived a blessed life. Some of the blessings he received by less than honest means, others just happened upon him, and still others he gained by God's grace and his initiative and ingenuity. But now this man of many blessings had come to an important crossing point in his life, and he was filled with fear and trepidation as to what he should do.
Crossing over bodies of water often signaled a change in the life of an individual or group in the Old Testament. Moses and the Hebrew people crossed the Red Sea and a new life with God was initiated. Later, at the end of the Jewish exodus, Joshua and the Israelites would cross over the Jordan into the promised land and a new chapter for the Chosen People was begun. In this week's lectionary text, Jacob is at a crossing, a place in life where change will take place. Jacob is alone and has time to mediate and contemplate about what is involved with this change. It is during this time of reflection that he finds himself in a wrestling match with the Divine.
As a former high school and college coach, I have always been fascinated with the sport of wrestling. For wrestling is the one sport where an individual is literally locked up in the grasp of the opposition. Each movement is countered by the opponent and every facet of the wrestler's being, body, mind and soul, are intertwined in the conflict. No other sport has this type of intimate contact between combatants, which, often in wrestling more so than any other sport, allows relationship to grow between the contestants.
Jacob is in a wrestling match with the Divine and his whole self is thrust into the effort. In fact, during the match he is wounded, as his hip has been put out of place, but still he holds onto his opponent.
Finally, an appeal is made to end the contest and scripture tells us that Jacob says, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." To which the opponent concurs by releasing the grip and then by offering Jacob a blessing and a new name, Israel, which means, "The one who strives with God."
Over the past few months, I have felt that we, in this community, state, and nation have come to a river's edge. Although we are a blessed people in so many ways, we are now at a place of crossing where decisions are necessary on major issues that affect quality of life.
Locally, the school referendum confronts us and a decision on this issue will soon have to be made. In our state, the collapse of the 35W bridge opened our eyes to problems with the infrastructure of our roads and bridges, but maybe even more to the greater problems concerning our state financial resources and fiscal responsibilities. As a result, some tough answers will need to be hammered out. Nationally, stories of concern abound about the war in Iraq, the threat of and our response to terrorism, our nation's health care for the many generations of people, and so many others. What and how can we manage all of these problems that lay before us? Where can we turn for answers?
We are at a crossing, and maybe what God is reminding us in this Genesis narrative, is that we, the people of this community, state and nation that have been blessed by God in so many ways throughout our past now again need to turn to God, wrestle with God, grab onto God, be in relationship with God, by allowing God to visit us in body, mind and soul, so that we can gain insight into how we are to handle these crossings. Then, when we are ready to allow God to let us go so that we can move across to a new place in our lives, maybe we then can ask God to bless us so that in our crossing we will have the foresight to make wise decisions and that we can continue to be blessed and be a blessing to others.
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