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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, August 12, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Genesis 32:22–31

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. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 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. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 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. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. (NRSV)

Reflection
With the recent passing of civil rights movement legend and ordained Baptist preacher, Congressman John Lewis, one of his most famous sayings has reentered the public lexicon. In a tweet from May of 2018, when reflecting on his lifetime of service to the cause of antiviolence, he encouraged today’s restless citizens with these words: “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. . . . Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year; it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

Many of our biblical forebears were also fond of getting into trouble, if not for the common good, certainly for their own. Jacob is a figure who reveled in picking fights and pushing limits, to deceive if necessary, to obtain what he desired. Until that night at Peniel, perhaps he hadn’t yet met his match or encountered his struggle of a lifetime, for until that nighttime wrestling match, there was always an escape clause for the one who was crafty enough to use it.

But this time Jacob found that his tricks no longer worked, and he had to definitively confront his own past. When he did so, God showed up in the struggle that ensued, impressing upon Jacob that the deepest conflict lay within himself: would he continue to be a person of guile or embrace a newfound compassion? Jacob, as Congressman Lewis suggested, would come to find that struggle, however injurious, can be worth it. Out of this epic encounter Jacob would find resolution for his past and be called toward a new purpose for his future, as evidenced by his new name Israel, which means struggle with God.

What courageous act of love does this moment demand from you? Whatever it be, may you hold fast to the truth that out of struggle love finds its power.

Prayer
Stir me, O God, from complacency to the courage that would make good trouble for the cause of your justice, peace, and reconciliation. Let me not be afraid of woundedness or hide from risk. Just let me be content to know that as I step out in love, you are near. Amen.

Written by Joe Morrow, Minister for Evangelism

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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