Text: Genesis 32:22-30
Date: Pentecost XXII + Proper 24 + 10/16/16
Almighty God has not only commanded us to pray but also has promised to hear us. Jesus’ parable, says St. Luke, is meant to teach us not only always to pray but also never to lose heart (Luke 18:1-8). Our prayers arise out of an awareness of our need. But they are not to dwell on that need. Rather they must attach themselves firmly to the promises and power of God to meet that need. Therefore, today’s Introit began, “Remember your congregation, which you have purchased of old, which you have redeemed.” “Have regard for the covenant,” that is, God’s own word and purpose and promise of grace and mercy. The mini-drama of the widow continually pleading to the unrighteous judge reminds us how faith never gives up even when it seems either that God is not listening or that He is slow to respond. The strange story of Jacob wrestling with God was chosen as commentary on Jesus’ parable.
Having deceitfully stolen his older brother’s birthright and his father’s blessing to be the next in line of spiritual headship, Jacob (whose very name meant “deceiver”) flees his brother Esau’s wrath to his mother’s brother Laban hundreds of miles north in Haran. Over the next twenty years God blessed Jacob with material blessings and sons through whom would come the twelve tribes of Israel. Through other circumstances of his own making and two visitations of angels of God Jacob was now moved to return to his home in Canaan. Yet his fear that Esau still held murderous intent made him fearfully devise a plan to somehow appease his older brother.
Crossing the Jabbok River, he drew ever closer to his goal. At night we’re told Jacob was alone. Earlier Jacob had prayed to God, “Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him (Gen 32:11). So now suddenly, out of nowhere we’re told “a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.” Now though the prophet Hosea says of our text, “[Jacob] strove with the angel and prevailed” (Hos 12:4), this was no ordinary angel or messenger of God but was THE Messenger, THE Angel of God, the Son of God who appeared to Jacob as “a man” (even as He would for us and the whole world for our salvation as the son of the virgin). It was not a nightmare nor a merely spiritual conflict but a very real physical match. Not the best of five or even of seven but more like a wildcard game, “one and done.” “The man” allowed Jacob not to succumb, yet with one touch, he put his hip out of joint. Who can do that at all much less with but a touch?
Still Jacob wrestled even though he began to realize who this man was as he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” In his fear of Esau Jacob prayed to God for help. This was the answer to his prayer. God first met him as an enemy to show him his victory and confidence can happen only as he reaches firm hold of God even to the point of being blessed. His faith saved him and he became a new man. No longer “Jacob” the trickster but now “Israel,” literally the wrestler with God. As a result Jacob, now Israel confessed his faith in the words, “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”
Jacob’s prayer to the man was, “I will not let you go.” God’s answer to him was the same, “I will not let you go.” And that is God’s promise to all who believe and are baptized. “I will not let you go.”
Prayer is taking firm hold on God and His word, even when it seems that God is an enemy, that is, it is God speaking to you through His word of Law, not in order to condemn you however, but to expose and reveal your need in order to draw you closer to His mercy and grace, His Gospel. Therefore, when in doubt or even despair faith’s first prayer is not “Why me?” It is, rather, “Remember.” Remember your congregation. Remember your servant who you have purchased, redeemed with the blood of Your own Son, the very blood we receive when we meet Jesus here at His altar, His table, where we say, like Israel of old,
Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face;
Here would I touch and handle things unseen;
Here grasp with firmer hand the eternal grace,
And all my weariness upon Thee lean. (LSB 631)
Persistent prayer dwells not on our battles, wrestlings and troubles, but confidently says,
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot (or heal!) be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forever. (Psalm 121)
Remember. Remember your servant and your steadfast love. Prayer repeats the petition to the God who promised, “I will not let you go.” Prayer repeats the petition, “Remember.”