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Pentecost 8 Proper 13A RCL August 3, 2014

Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 17:1-7, 16
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

Our first reading today goes back centuries into ancient times. It was passed down though the oral tradition and was first written in our scriptures by the person we call the Jahwist writer, or J,  because this scholar referred to God as Jahweh. This writer worked around 950 B. C., so this version of the story dates back three thousand years.

God has called Jacob to return to his homeland. After some discussions with his wives, Leah and Rachel, and some negotiations with Laban, their father, Jacob has set out for home.

Jacob has heard that Esau is coming his way, and he is quite sure that Esau is still intent on killing him, so he splits all his possessions into four groups and sets them traveling at intervals so that, when Esau meets the first group of livestock and other possessions, those who are supervising that group will say, “All of this belongs to Jacob, “ and Esau will be impressed with Jacob’s wealth. Even after all that God has tried to teach Jacob, he is still operating on the assumption that one’s value depends on how much stuff one has. He is assuming that Esau operates on that value system as well, and that Esau  will be impressed and perhaps subdued by meeting four successive  accumulations of Jacob’s possessions. Also,  Jacob reasons, if Esau captures one or two of the groups of possessions,  one or two or three other sets of his wealth may still escape and remain his.

In terms of his spiritual journey, Jacob does a wise and courageous thing. He decides to spend the night alone by the River Jabbok, a river that feeds into the Jordan. In those days, people believed that, when you crossed a river, there was a river spirit there, and you had to get that spirit’s permission to cross. That is the origin of this story.

The identity of Jacob’s adversary is not made clear in our translation. He is simply referred to as “the man.” Jacob and his adversary are about equal in strength. The adversary injures Jacob. He strikes Jacob on his hip socket and Jacob’s hip is put out of joint.

They wrestle until the dawn is almost breaking. The adversary asks Jacob to let him go. But Jacob will not let him go until the adversary blesses him. In our Judeo-Christian tradition, we believe that Jacob is wrestling with God. God blesses Jacob and gives him a new identity. Jacob, the Supplanter becomes Israel, one who has “striven with God and humans and has prevailed.” Jacob names the place Peniel, because he now has seen God face to face. As the sun rises, he is limping because of his battle with himself and with God.

We all know what it is to wake up at two or three in the morning, worrying about a problem, perhaps a family member in distress or something else that has been weighing us down. We have all struggled with God in our own ways, maybe not as dramatically as Jacob, but in our own ways and in our own times. We have also wrestled with the darker sides of ourselves. Why don’t we just take the easy way out for once? What harm could it do to lie just this once? Or fudge the books? Or take this little tax break? Or this little drink or drug? What harm could it do, just this once, to take the easy wrong over the difficult right?

None of us is perfect, though we all try to seek and do God’s will, with the help of God’s grace. The reason this story is so compelling is that we have all wrestled with God, and that is because God is always calling us into more wholeness and more health.

Jacob comes out of this battle with a new identity and with a wound. We are constantly growing into the people God calls us to be, and we, too, are wounded.  But, you know what? We are stronger for those wounds.  Linda Sanford has written a wonderful book called Strong at the Broken Places.  There is much truth in that title.

Every time we go though a challenge and a struggle, with God’s help, we grow stronger.

Our gospel for today is the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus is tired. He has just heard about the death of his cousin, John the Baptist. He gets into a boat and goes to a deserted place by himself. Perhaps he is grieving John’s death. Perhaps is is scared, knowing that the authorities are watching him. Certainly he can use a rest, because the crowds are following him everywhere. They need his healing and they are hungry and thirsty for physical and spiritual nourishment.

When he gets to shore, the crowd is there. The disciples want him to send the people away to buy food. Jesus tells them to give the crowd something to eat. The disciples come from a theology of scarcity. “All we have is five loaves and two fish.” Jesus tells them to bring the offering to him. He makes sure everyone is seated on the grass. What a difference it can make when we take a situation that could be chaotic and introduce some order and calm.  Just taking the time to get into groups and sit down on the grass helps everyone to focus on the attention and love that Jesus is bestowing on these people.

He takes the bread, looks up to heaven, blesses the bread and breaks the bread. And feeds all these people with twelve baskets left over.

This is a Eucharistic action, to take, bless, break, and give the bread to the people. Jesus does this for us every time we gather to celebrate this feast of Thanksgiving.Jesus is always with us, to listen to us and care for us, to give us the grace to take the next step in our journey toward wholeness. And at every Eucharist, he feeds us with himself, with his love, his grace, his energy, his very self.

Our readings tell us that every encounter with God is filled with God’s grace.

May we always be deeply grateful to our Lord for his never-failing grace and love.   Amen.

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