AND BLESSING Genesis 32:22-31; Luke 18:1-8
One of the most inspiring sights in nature is the eagle in flight. With
an endless expanse of blue behind it the eagle spreads its mighty wings
and soars majestically and gracefully across the sky. Free, powerful,
complete. Because of this the eagle becomes a symbol for how we’d
like to be. We all want to soar like an eagle in life.
But I wonder if you know how it is an eagle learns to soar? Apparently
there is a particular species of eagle which builds its nest high up on
the face of a cliff overlooking the sea. In this nest the eagle chick
is hatched and spends its first days watching its mother come and go,
collecting food and bringing it back.
One day mum decides it’s time her chicks learned to fly. You know
how she does it? She forces her way right into the nest and then pushes
her chicks out. The chick starts plummeting down the cliff-face, terrified,
shocked, heartbeat racing, aware that death is just seconds away. And
then something amazing happens. The chick instinctively stretches the
wings it never knew it had, the plummet becomes a fall, then a gentle
rise. Soon the chick is soaring like its mother.
It’s in that split second of terrifying danger that the chick comes
face to face with itself, and face to face with wider reality. In that
terrifying moment the chick discovers what it is. And without that terrifying
moment it will never learn to soar.
The story of Jacob in the OT is one that has interested me for a long
time. It has many spiritual treasures hidden in it and most of them come
from the fact that a very human Jacob is portrayed in Genesis. Today’s
reading tells of a pivotal point in Jacob’s life when things changed
for him and this is symbolised by his name change from Jacob, meaning
the Supplanter, to Israel, meaning man of God. I want to explore what
happened to Jacob in three movements: Fear, Struggle and Blessing.
to be acquainted with the whole sweep of Jacob’s story: he was the
twin of Esau, and they were sons of Isaac. Jacob was born grasping his
older twin’s heel and they grew up to be very different from each
other. One day Jacob tricked his father into giving him Esau’s birthright,
and when Esau found out Jacob fled for his life. Jacob spent many years
far away, became very prosperous, married two sisters – Leah and
Rachel and had children. But he always knew that one day he would have
to return to his roots. That brings us to the part of his story we are
thinking about now.
afraid of Esau, especially when his own scouts informed him that his brother
was coming to meet him along with 400 men. Jacob feared the worst –
that his brother had so many armed men and he felt very vulnerable. Perhaps
Esau was coming to take revenge for having been cheated all those years
ago and wished to reclaim his birthright. So we hear how Jacob dealt with
his fear – his strategies of coping with fear. He sends tranches
of gifts trying to make up for stealing birthright; he divides his people
and possessions so that if one party is lost the other might have a chance
of survival. But one last strategy actually leads to more positive things:
Jacob was beginning to realise that he could no longer continue running
away, it was time to return and face his past. So we see Jacob moving
from fear to struggle.
me not God
CS Lewis was the author of the widely read children's books, The Narnia
Chronicles, as well as many novels for grown-ups and books on issues surrounding
the Christian faith. The movie Shadowlands (which is now also a stage
play) tells Lewis' story, focusing in particular on his relationship with
his wife, Joy Gresham. Gresham and Lewis meet while Lewis is a don at
After Joy is diagnosed with cancer the couple marry. The movie invites
us to witness their love, their pain, their grief, their struggles with
faith and God. Eventually Joy dies.
At one point in the story a friend says to Lewis, "Christopher can
scoff, Jack, but I know how hard you've been praying; and now God is answering
Lewis replies "That's not why I pray, Harry. I pray because I can't
help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows
out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God, it
Various things in the way the story is told highlight the struggle that
Jacob enters into at this point. There is a clear boundary which Jacob
knows at some point he has to cross – the physical boundary is the
brook Jabbok, but it symbolises the spiritual boundary he has to cross
from being a supplanter, a thief on the run, to a man who settles with
his past in order to enjoy a peaceful future. Jacob sends his wives and
children over this boundary first and is then left on his own. In the
end the struggle is one that only he can deal with. It is night time and
this symbolises, his struggle in the darkness of his own soul. He then
wrestles with man for the rest of the night. It is a mysterious wrestling
match. Who was the man? Why did he wrestle Jacob? He seems to come from
nowhere and disappear again at dawn. What is this all about? Jacob was
convinced that he had seen God face to face in that experience. The point
is that Jacob struggles. Wrestling involves almost equal forces and as
the all-night match comes to an end Jacob sustains a permanent injury
which would serve to remind him of that pivotal experience for the rest
of his life.
arrives in heaven
Have you heard the story about Mr Jones, who dies and goes to heaven?
When he arrives, St Peter is waiting at the Pearly Gates and takes Mr
Jones on a tour of heaven. Mr Jones is awestruck. The streets are paved
with gold, beautiful mansions glisten in the sunshine, choirs of angels
sing the most beautiful songs.
Partway through his tour of heaven Mr Jones’ eye is drawn to an
odd looking building, an enormous warehouse with no windows and just one
door. What an odd structure for heaven! "You don’t really want
to see what’s in there,” says St Peter.
"But I do, I do" says Mr Jones. He races across the lawn and
pushes open the door to discover rows and rows of shelves, floor to ceiling.
Stacked on the shelves are thousands of white boxes. The boxes all have
names on them.
"Is there one with my name on it?" asks Mr Jones as he rushes
to the J aisle. He finds the box with his name on it and opens it up.
His mouth drops, his pulse quickens, and finally he says to Peter, "What
are all these wonderful things inside my box? Are they the good things
in store for me now I’ve reached heaven?"
"No" replies St Peter. "They’re all the blessings
God wanted to give you while you were alive on earth, but which you never
A sad look came over Mr Jones. He looked into the box, to St Peter and
then back to the box. "Why?" he asked St Peter. "Why did
I miss out on all these blessings?"
Well, that’s a long story…" replied St Peter
The wrestling match in the night changes Jacob. The man wants Jacob to
let him go as first signs of dawn appear but Jacob will not let him go
without his blessing. It seems a strange blessing that he receives: his
name is changed from Jacob to Israel. But this is symbolic that out of
this struggle Jacob is a new man – like Abram becoming Abraham or
Saul becoming Paul. The blessing is won through struggle this time, not
through deception. His new life of blessing begins with the sun rising
on him, even though he will always be a limping man. His descendents become
the people of God – Israel, and they don’t eat the thigh muscle
in their meat is a permanent reminder. The outcome of story is that the
twins are reconciled. Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow and
the unjust judge is one about prayer: what we learn from these stories
being put together is that our spiritual growth is mirrored in the movement
from fear, through struggle to blessing: but we must persevere to gain
those blessings that we might otherwise miss.
© Rev Paul Smith