Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Daily homily: Jacob wrestles with God

Today’s first reading describes Jacob the night before
he meets his brother Esau after many years.
You may recall Jacob mistreated his brother:
Remember how Esau
"sold his birthright" for a bowl of stew?
Jacob could have simply shared.
Remember how Jacob, with his mother,
Deceived Jacob’s father, Isaac,
so that Jacob received the blessing, instead of Esau?
After that, Jacob fled the country.

Now, after many years, he’s coming back, and he’s afraid.

In today’s reading, Jacob wrestles with "an angel"—
Or, as many read this, he wrestles with
This is Jacob’s whole life.
He manipulated and deceived,
Rather than let God make things happen for him.

Jacob’s family life was messed up:
He had two wives,
plus he had children from two maid-servants,
and he played them against each other;
no wonder his sons hated each other:
Remember how Joseph taunted his older brothers—
They hated him for it—they sold him into slavery!
Eventually, they all ended up in Egypt;
All Israel ended up in slavery for 400 years!
What if Jacob hadn’t pitted his children
against each other?

The meeting with Esau, as it happens, is peaceful.
They seem to be reconciled.
But something very sad happens:
After they embrace, they part—
Esau seems willing to stay with his brother;
But Jacob is afraid, so they part.
They meet once more—at the funeral of their father.
Isn’t that sad?

How often angry words of ours
end up being the last words we speak to someone.
How often pride keeps us
from being the first to pick up the phone or write a note.

Jacob wrestles all night!
And he walks away limping.
He—like us—was a slow learner!
What if he had learned the wisdom
Of something the poet Dante said—
So simple and profound:
"In your will is our peace."

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