Theme: Source of reconciliation
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, your love is greater than any hurt we may endure and through your love, we may mirror your love with others; give us courage to meet and reach out to those we no longer associate with because of relationship pain, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Jim Taylor talks about conflict. “Several decades ago, David Roy, then head of the Centre for Bio-Ethics in Montreal, made a statement that stuck with me. ‘All our laws,’ he said, ‘are founded on our experience of the family.’ It’s a reasonable hypothesis. The smallest communal unit develops practices that enable that group to live with a minimum of conflict.
“Groups of families develop a rough consensus on those principles, those practices, whatever they are. Then they extend them into the tribe, the clan, and eventually into the modern nation-state. If we apply what we know about conflict in smaller groups to national governance systems, Canada and the United States are both in trouble.
“Conflict consultant Speed Leas, of the Washington based Alban Institute, developed a five-level scale. Level One may not even seem to be a conflict. It simply involves a problem to solve. My wife wants to go out for Mexican food, I want Thai. We’ll work it out.
“Level Two involves more fundamental disagreement. The local art gallery, say, receives a sizeable bequest. Should it save the capital, and spend only the interest income? Or should it use the funds now, to improve the gallery’s exhibits and staffing? Despite disagreement, the discussion remains focused on issues, not on personalities.
“At Level Three, though, winning becomes paramount. Language grows heated, intemperate. Factions form behind outspoken leaders; issues become secondary to personalities. At this level, a large group in the middle doesn’t understand what the fuss is about, and wishes it would go away.
“Level Four forces people to take sides. There is no neutral ground any more. If one side is good, the other must be bad -- even evil. Personal attacks replace discussion of issues. The goal is to defeat the other side, by any means. Compromise is replaced by a desire to destroy.
“At Level Five, conflict becomes vindictive. Not even winning matters, if you can do enough damage to the other party to justify your own losses. In politics, ruin their reputation. In business, bankrupt them. In war, rape them, humiliate them. Murder enough of them in a school, a college, a military post, so that even suicide-- by denying the enemy its vengeance -- feels like victory.
“Doesn’t all this sound like the political situation in Canada and the U.S. today? Blatant lies about Barrack Obama’s birth and religion demonize the person, whether or not they have relevance to issues.
“But here’s the rub. Theorists like Speed Leas, who have studied patterns of conflict escalation, tell us that once a conflict reaches Level Four or Five, participants cannot resolve it by themselves. There’s too much at stake. It’s a death struggle. Outside intervention is necessary.
“At the family level, a counselor may head off divorce -- or at least make it less vicious. At the community level, a facilitator may restore communication. Labor and management may use an arbitrator to settle long-standing disputes. But who’s going to intervene, when governments become dysfunctional?”
We can turn to God. After we reconcile with God, then we can reconcile with another. But our reconciliation with God will cause us to look at things we will not want to see about ourselves. After God helps us to see ourselves, then we can reach out to the person or persons where a repair of our relationship needs to happen. This is what happened to Jacob.
Our Old Testament reading is the famous story of Jacob wrestling with God. Of course, an obvious question that arises from this story is why would God wrestle with anyone? Wouldn’t God be able to take Jacob with ease? Genesis doesn’t address these questions. It merely seems like this is a natural event.
Jacob is on his way home when the wrestling match takes place. Jacob is also going home with trepidation. He fled his home in the Holy Land, because his brother Esau, wanted to kill him for stealing Esau’s paternal blessing. Now Jacob is returning home because he wore out his welcome with his father-in-law and narrowly escaped a war with him. Jacob simply has a knack for making the men close to him, angry.
Jacob had sent messengers ahead of him to contact Esau and deliver gifts. They returned saying that Esau was approaching with 400 men. Jacob made preparations for war. Jacob had many servants who could be used as soldiers. When Jacob and his company cross the Jabbok River, they are entering Esau’s country. The Jabbok is a tributary of the Jordan River in what is today Jordan.
Jacob is alone when a man comes to pick a fight. They wrestled until daybreak. Now this man was not strong enough to beat Jacob, but he is strong enough to put Jacob’s hip out of joint. (?) Perhaps it was a trick wrestling hold that the man chose not to use for hours. The man seems to fear the sunrise. So, he is desperate to end the match. Maybe it was not in the rules to put an opponent’s hip out of joint, but he resorts to the move out of desperation. In any case, Jacob had to be in a great deal of pain.
Jacob cannot run away. Jacob refused to break his hold on the man. Since the man’s maneuver on Jacob’s hip did not resolve the match, the man turns to negotiation. The man pleads that he needs to go before daybreak. Jacob will only let go if the man blesses him. Jacob stole his brother’s birthright and his blessing and now Jacob wants the man to also bless him. How many times do we wrestle with God, seeking God’s blessing?
The man asks for Jacob’s name. Knowing someone’s name in ancient times was to give power to the one who knows the name. After all, a name is necessary for blessing, cursing, warrant issuing, and gifting.
When told of Jacob’s name, the man changes Jacob’s name. Jacob’s name will be Israel, which means one who wrestles with God. Just as Esau is already the father of a nation, Israel will be a father of a nation, comprised of 12 tribes named after Jacob’s sons. Often times in the Old Testament, Jacob and Israel are synonymous. The context determines whether Israel refers to a man or the nation. And sometimes it is purposely ambiguous. The conniving Jacob is also the character of the nation.
Israel then demands to know the name of the man. The man refuses and blesses Israel. Israel names the place Peniel, which means God’s face, because Israel saw God face-to-face and lived. Israel then went away, limping.
Israel does meet his brother and Esau embraces and welcomes Jacob. Israelites are forbidden from eating the meat of the hip socket in memory of this event.
Walter Brueggemann calls this story “The Crippling Victory.” (Brueggemann is my favorite Old Testament scholar.) Israel prevails with God, but will limp the rest of his life. Any reconciliation with another person must first be made with God and sometimes with painful consequences.
Many families have disputes and hurts that take a long time to heal and sometimes never heal. An honest and direct meeting of the estranged family members is a good first step. But we need to meet God, reconcile with God, before we can reach true reconciliation with a family member or anyone else. The encounter will produce pain along with new promises and insights for living a reconciling life.
These principles also apply to a church family. Getting mad and walking away resolves nothing. After wrestling with God, we can limp into reconciliation with another.
We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, give us the gift of reconciliation through which we may repair the relationships that have gone astray, always remembering that anything is possible with your help, through the movement of the Holy Spirit, and with Jesus by our side, through whom we pray. Amen.
Text: Genesis 32:22–31 (NRSV)
22 The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 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. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then the manb said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel,c for you have striven with God and with humans,d and have prevailed.” 29 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. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel,e saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.