A Night-Long Wrestling Match
22nd Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24 [c]) October 16, 2016
22 The same night [Jacob] arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. 24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his 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 has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, 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 name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”
IN THE NAME OF JESUS.
Jacob wrestles with God. We are in on this wrestling match. As much as Jacob himself, we are involved.
Jacob is on his way to meet Esau his brother—his brother whom he tricked out of the promise many years before. The promise of being the father from whom would come forth the promised Messiah, the promise first given to Abraham, then from Abraham to his son Isaac, then from Isaac to his firstborn Esau—but it didn’t go to Esau, but to Jacob, because Jacob tricked him out of it. So Jacob is on his way to meet with Esau, a meeting not expected to go well, and Esau is the tough brother, Jacob is the refined one, so not going well might even end up with Jacob being dead, and on his way to meet Esau, a man comes to Jacob in the night, locking up with Jacob in a nightlong wrestling match.
But it’s not any man. It’s God. But God is not a man with a body, with arms and legs and all the rest, but he’s eternal, almighty, holy God who created all men, and all creation, everything that can be seen by the human eye.
But this night, Holy God, almighty and eternal, gives himself the form of a man, and comes to Jacob, to fight him.
For Jacob, it would be better to be in a fight with Esau. At least Esau is a mortal man like Jacob.
But this is God who locks up with Jacob.
Why would God do this? We know it’s God, so does Jacob. When this extraordinary event is finished, after all, Jacob calls the name of the place where the match took place, Peniel, which means, in Hebrew, simply, Face of God, because, Jacob said, “I have seen God face to face and yet my life has been delivered.” [Genesis 32:31]
Why would God do this, come down in the form of a man for a few hours to wrestle with this Jacob? God, after all, has nothing to gain. But he has everything to gain. For the chief thing God wants to do is to give gifts to the sinner. The big thing God wants to be known for is the giving of salvation. So he comes to Jacob in such a way that Jacob can hold onto him, can even wrestle him to the ground, and grip him in a headlock, and hold him there, not letting him go, until God blesses him.
God wants to be held tight until the blessing is given. God wants the sinner to grab onto him for all the sinner is worth, until God says, “I am your God, I bless you, I make you holy, I give you my Name, and I will never depart you.” So he comes to Jacob in such a way that Jacob can do just that.
Because to wrestle with God, and to hold tightly to him, and to call upon his promise and not let him go until you hear it, this is the opposite of idolatry; it is faith.
Idolatry is to know that god is your enemy, and you have to buy him off—buy him off with your sacrifices, or buy him off with your loyalty and good works, or buy him off with whatever else you think you can leverage him with, but to buy him off so he will finally be the god you want.
But faith is to know that God is not your enemy; it is to know that God is he who has promised to give you life and every good gift in eternity, that he is holy and he makes you holy as he free gift, to know that even apart from and over against everything you see with your eyes and feel in your heart, against all this, God is not your enemy, but is he who loves you, who cleanses you of all your sin, and will do anything to keep you as his own, even coming down in the dirt and the mud to let Jacob wrestle him until he has heard the word of blessing.
But when Jacob wrestles with God, we are in on this match, too. For the blessing Jacob secured from God was the blessing that there would be from Jacob’s lineage a Savior. There would be a son born of Jacob’s heritage, and this Son would be he who would take the sins of the world upon himself and shed the blood to pay for the sins and ransom every sinner. The blessing given to Jacob was that, through this Savior who would come from Jacob’s line, there would be life-everlasting for those who belong to death—they would be called out of death and into life by the voice of this Son of Jacob. That’s the blessing. It’s the Messiah, the Christ, the One anointed to be the Savior of every sinner including Jacob and including each of us. It’s Jesus, the greater Son of Jacob, the promised One, coming from the promise that Jacob secured by holding onto and not letting go of God.
Which means, we are in on this wrestling match, too. For we have been baptized into Christ Jesus. Since we are baptized into Christ, we, with him to whom we have been joined, are children of Jacob. Being children of Jacob along with Christ Jesus, that wrestling match is our wrestling match.
We don’t have God come to us in the flesh in the night for us to wrestle; but this God, Jacob’s God, we see his face. Peniel—Face of God, that is where we have been gathered today. We can’t, of course, see the face of God. He is almighty, he is eternal, he is Spirit, he is holy and we are not holy—we can’t see he face. But nor could Jacob. Not until, that is, God showed up to Jacob in the way God chose to show up to Jacob, and Jacob did see his face, and wrestled him down and would not let him go, and he named the place Peniel, Face of God, for he saw God in the way God chose for him to see him, and yet Jacob’s life was not taken, but he was blessed with eternal life.
That’s the God we belong to. We can’t see his face. Not until he shows up in the way God chooses to show up so that we can see him. The One Jacob wrestled, he became man through his birth to Mary, and he shows up to us in the way he has appointed in his Sacrament. He shows up to us in a way not that we can wrestle him down and hold on to him as did our father Jacob, but in his appointed way where we can taste him, eating his Body and drinking his Blood, so that when we receive him as he has appointed to come to us, we may call this place Peniel, Face of God, for here, in his Sacrament, we are given to see God face to face, and yet our lives are not been take, but have been delivered.
This is the life of faith. To hold onto God and not let him go; to receive him in the way he has given himself to be received; to hear his Word declaring This is my Body, This is My Blood, and to know that here, we are at the face of God, we are on holy ground, we, the unholy ones are faced up to God, and we do not die, but live. In our sin we should be more afraid that Jacob as he walks toward Esau who he has cheated, and yet, we are given to not let God go, to hold onto his promise, to wrestle with God and even to prevail and overcome the judgment of his Law, because, we are locked onto his promise, and we are gripped onto his grace like vice-grips, and we will not let go, until we hear from our God the words he most wants to say, until we hear his blessing.
And for us, as we are at the face of God, his word of blessing is, I forgive you your sin. Eat my holy Body. Drink my holy Blood. By my Body and my Blood, I forgive you. And I name you, Israel. Israel, which means, He has prevailed over God. I name you Israel, for in holding onto me for my promise, for holding me tight for my grace and not letting me go, you prevail over the judgment and condemnation of my Law, you prevail over sin and death, and I bless you.
IN THE NAME OF JESUS.