Monday, July 25, 2011

Limping:Proper 13, Year A

This Week's Lectionary Texts
Genesis 32:22-31 or Isaiah 55:1-5
Psalm 17:1-7, 15 or Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

This Week's Reflection
If you choose to focus on the Genesis passage this week, you will find yourself in the company of a guy I wouldn't want to have in my family. Jacob has fought to be first from the womb, tricked his brother, lied to his father, and ran away like a coward to avoid Esau's wrath. On the night mentioned in the passage, he is waiting it out alone because he has sent all of his loved ones on with bribes for Esau in the hopes that he will be forgiven for all his mischief. And, it is this night that he encounters a stranger that most preachers will say was God, or at least some representative of God. Is it any wonder that Jacob held on for dear life asking for a blessing? He had been doing that since before birth.

I fell in love with this story when I was a student at Memphis Theological Seminary. I'm sure I was writing an exegetical paper which led me to delve into the details of the story in a way that I had never done before. It wasn't the wrestling that stayed with me. It wasn't the blessing received. It wasn't even the name-change in the end. What sticks with me to this day and keeps me interested in this story is that it is about this arrogant man, Jacob, who does not walk, but limps away from the encounter with God. Imagine this guy who had so very much, some of which he received through deceitful ways, returning to the family he had run from, not walking, but limping, broken, humbled, and changed - Israel, "for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed."

The disciples were humbled when Jesus answered their call to send the people out for food. In the Matthew text this week, the crowd was gathered listening to the preaching. The disciples are worn slap out and, I imagine, hungry themselves. "Hey boss. These folks need to eat. Could you hold off on telling any more stories and send them back to town where they can get a good meal?" And, Jesus instead of agreeing, says "Yeah, you are right. They need to eat. So, guess what. You feed them! Don't expect others to do that for you. Take care of it. Get to cooking."

Most of us know the rest of the story. There are many theories as to what happened on that hill (in my mind's eye I see a hill!). Did Jesus take two fish and five loaves and miraculously turn them into enough to feed over 5000 people? Did the generosity of a few inspire many to pull out their own lunches to share with their neighbors? Either way, it was a miracle and the disciples didn't get the answer they expected, but they did receive a blessing. They limped away from the encounter humbled by the fact that they did not act with compassion in the first place.

I fell in love with the story of Jacob on the banks of the Penuel because I became amazed that God's story includes examples of arrogant and tricky people who recognize the need to fight for a blessing from God. I fell in love with the idea that God provides that blessing, but it doesn't mean we will go skipping away fancy free. Often times, we are left limping, humbled, blessed, but broken - in other words, we are left as Israel - those that strive with God.

This Week's Art
in order of appearance in reflection
Tenacity by Joanna MarieJacob Wrestling the Angel of the Lord by Jack Baumgartner
Feeding 5000 by Ray Mefarso
Feeding of 5000 Men by Justino MagalonaJacob and the Angel by Shraga Weil