9 July, 2013. Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week
Gen 32:23ff. On his return home after years in exile, Jacob finds himself wrestling with an angel of God, at Peniel.
Matt 9:32ff. Jesus cures the sick, teaches and proclaims the good news of the reign of God, for the harvest is ready.
First Reading: Genesis 32:23-33
He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.
So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.
Gospel: Matthew 9:32-38
After they had gone away, a demoniac who was dumb was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the one who had been dumb spoke; and the crowds were amazed and said, “Never has anything like this been seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees said, “By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons.”
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.”
Just Limping Along
What the gospel presents in summary style is treated at a more leisurely pace in a story from Genesis. Matthew overlooks the weary journeys, the mixed receptions, sometimes favourable and sometimes not, that Jesus met with. It is all stated quickly and simply: he continued his tour of all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the reign of God, and curing every sickness and disease. Once cured of sickness and disease, a person enters an entirely new life. One who had been crippled or confined to bed, blind or deaf had been forced to adapt to that situation. Their relationship with others, their management of personal details, their way of getting from place to put – all aspects of their life were adjusted and made as liveable as possible. The disabled ones must have come to terms with the situation, not necessarily liking it, so that their thoughts and emotions were thoroughly colored by sickness or incapacity. Suddenly they are cured, and their entire life must be reshaped, both their external work and their internal thoughts.
Like that, abruptly thrust into a whole new scene, Jacob wrestled all night long with the angel of God. The text states at the end that Jacob had been face to face with God in his wrestling. For this reason he named the place “Peniel,” in Hebrew, “face of God.” He explains, “I have seen God face to face yet my life has been spared,” in contrast to the tradition that no one can see the face of God and remain alive (Exod 33:20). Jacob’s dramatic change involved a return from the northern country of Haran (in modern Syria) to the promised land, eventually to be named after him. He is told, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, because you have contended with divine and human beings and have prevailed.” To be given a new name is to embark on a new vocation. His future life was to be markedly different and it was also to be decidedly under God’s providence.
We may have to wrestle with sudden changes in our lives: from sickness to health, or vice-versa; from a happy family to one stricken with death; from a compatible employment to loss of work; from economic security to financial worries, or vice versa. Perhaps, as Hosea once said to Israel, we are sent back to our starting point, back to Egypt. Yet as we are sent into our “Egypt,” we are no infant or child; we are mature, accustomed to independence, and now we are stricken with this disability.
Jacob had a limp after his wrestling with the angel. We too can no longer walk straight; unable to stand tall We should hear God say to us: you have a new name, a new call, a new and different contribution to life. In your weakness you will find a new type of strength: “God chose those whom the world considers absurd to shame the wise; he selects the weak of this world to shame the strong… so that mankind cannot boast before God, who has given you life in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor 1:27-30).