In the last of our sermons on Jacob, this is exactly what he finds out: you can run, but you can’t hide. After leaving his home 20 years earlier because he’d been such a little shyster to his brother that Esau wanted to kill him, God has told him it is time to go home. Jacob realizes that it’s time to face the music, time to be responsible, time to make amends. But it isn’t easy. This will perhaps be the hardest thing that Jacob has ever done. But for him to become the person he was created to be, he must face his past in a creative, healthy way.
It’s the same for all of us. We’re more apt to run from the things that have hurt us, or from the things we’ve done to hurt others, than we are to deal with them. And the longer we put off dealing with them, the harder it becomes. Yet, for us to be free of their grip on our souls, we have to face our “demons” (if you will) to take their power away and move on.
In Genesis 32, Jacob’s inner struggle about going home is illustrated by the story of how he wrestles with “someone” (Jewish Midrash tells us it was an angel, protector of his life and inner identity) through the night until he receives a blessing and a new name.
Jacob came away bruised and battered, but he survived. And what I find incredibly poignant in the story is this… Jacob’s original betrayal was to put goat skins on his neck and arms to be hairy like his brother and go to his dying, blind father’s bedside to ask for his blessing and his father asks, “Which of my two sons are you?” And Jacob, lying through his teeth, replies, “I am Esau, your firstborn,” thus attaining what was rightfully Esau’s blessing. Now, 20 years later Jacob is demanding instead the stranger’s or angel’s blessing and is asked, “What is your name?” He replies, “Jacob.” It has taken a long time, but he has claimed his identity, proven his strength, and he is ready to face what he has done.
Then the stranger says, “Your name will no longer be called “Jacob” or “Heel-Grabber” but “Israel” – “Overcomer of God.” He is no longer the Trickster and Betrayer of our story, he has grown, he has changed and now he is fit to become the father of the 12 tribes. This encounter has helped to wrench Jacob free from the past and release him from that and reorient him toward the future.
It is important for each of us to realize that we do not need to remain bound by our pasts or pigeon-holed into roles in our families and tribes. It may be a great inner struggle with ourselves and with our God, we may come out with a few scars, but at the end we will find that we have been blessed. The long festering wounds will begin to heal, and we are freed to move forward into a better future.
Love & Light,