All of this week I have read the story of Jacob and his sons. They started with Jacob wrestling with an angel of God, or God, and surviving. It was through that bout that Jacob was renamed Israel, and that story alone was enough to leave me without words, yet pondering the significance of that event. That story in the weekly liturgical readings was told counterpoint to the gospels of Jesus as physician. Through that encounter with God, there is that notion of the patriarch wrestling not simply with the God of Israel but also with him wrestling with all of the gods of that landscape. At the conclusion of Israel’s battle, he leaves that place and enters into a place of promise. With that journey begins the journeys of a people. The notion of travel stuck in my head, and also the thought of Jesus the physician. For the physician, I spotted a people born out of a battle with God. In Jesus there is that physician healing all those who continued to spar with their God. Those battling with God include those of this present age. Jesus can begin to be seen as someone who heals those that engage with their God, the battle takes on the tone of virtue and the wounds are those of honor. In those battles, though difficult, lead us to something better. They change us and transform us. They move us.
From Jacobs story enters the story of his sons, their misdeeds and their journey. Briefly, Jacob’s sons put their brother Joseph in a position to be captured and sold into slavery. Joseph is captured, and turned a slave. Jacob is lied to, and a very complicated story begins. That story has so many twists and turns it makes for the most fascinating reading. Its lessons seem at first hidden behind the suspense. Joseph, the brother turned captive takes his journey from the freedom of his home, into the captivity of Egypt. His misfortune though turns too fortune. Joseph’s captors are impressed with his intelligence, and he is promoted into a position of authority. While Joseph’s journey makes a turn for the better, his brothers does quite the opposite. They become trapped by famine, and their only escape becomes a journey to Egypt, and that becomes a path toward reconciliation. It seems Israel’s journeys and battles continue with his sons. So much more the need for Christ the physician. There too is the emphasis on the importance of those journeys, and even those that seem to be a disaster often lead to the greatest rewards. Those journeys of Israel’s decedents are highlighted with the tales of the prophets. They provide direction, though that advice is often ignored. Men don’t need directions, we can find our own way. The wanderers, the physician, and the guides.
In these stories of the travels of Jacob and his sons, there begins to emerge a story of a journey towards God. On that pathway, there are the wrong turns, detours, shortcuts. There are passes treacherous to navigate, and with them a test of faith. Overall though, there is in those biblical stories a journey to God. Now enters this Sundays gospel, where Jesus tells his disciples to begin their journey. Their journey is from God to the people. They journey from discipleship to Apostleship, and to be successful in their travels, Jesus tells them what not to bring. All is left behind except the message, and nothing else dares clutter their duty. Authority and prestige are left behind, along with luxury and comfort. The mission of their journey is to tend to the likes of Jacob and his sons as they try to seek their way back to God, and that journey they are about to embark on highlights Jesus’s mission. His mission is to lead us back to his Father.
I have taken many journeys, and hiked many times through the woods, I understand how important it is to bring the essentials for a successful hike, and how important it is to leave things behind that might add to your burden with little benefit. I admit when reading the story of Jacob and his sons, the theme of travel did not immediately come to mind. I got lost in the details, and enjoyed lingering around them. The theme emerged, and so too did Jesus as the healer. Jesus as healer becomes apparent through these old testament stories quite different than if they are read alone. Alone, Jesus heals an individual. When His healings are read against a backdrop of Jacob’s journey, Jesus healings are for humankind. It is not always the individual that takes the wrong turn, often it the busload. As much as an individual can deviate, so can a society; and then the healing and guidance of Christ becomes vital.
In Jacobs story, and in the stories of many biblical people, their eyes are indeed on God. Certainly they are often misguided, blinded, crippled, stubborn, mistaken, arrogant, and disobedient; but through all of that they recognize God. Emphasize that ! They wrestle with their God. What about today? It seems the fashion today is not recognize or engage with God, we ignore God. We deny God and mock God. Rather than battle with God as Jacob did, we simply walk away. Where does that path lead us? Who is our guide, who heals us as we stumble? What do we carry on our journey, on our path will our gadgetry truly help us or did we burden ourselves with nonsense? In Jacobs journey , I see someone tackling a mountain; fearful and arrogant but prepared. Today I visualize lemmings diving off a cliff, trusting not in God but our own opinions and desires. I wonder how different Jacobs story might have been had he decided not to wrestle with that angel, had he decided not to give the fight all he had, would he still receive the prize of Israel? I wonder what tomorrow brings?