Thursday, October 13, 2016

Faith is Wrestling

It took me a moment or two to detect a connection between the Track 2 OT lesson (Genesis 32:22-31) and the Gospel lesson (Luke 18:1-8). The former is Jacob's wrestling with an angel (or is it God?) at the ford of the Jabbok, and the latter is the parable of the persistent widow. One is larger than life, and the other is a simple story, but both center on faithfulness.

In Genesis 32, Jacob is in the process of appeasing his estranged brother Esau, whose large company is quickly approaching. Right in the middle of this sibling conflict, the story breaks for an overnight wrestling match between Jacob and the man/angel/God that meets him at the Jabbok. All night long, Jacob wrestles with God, and, as day approaches, this manifestation of God asks to be let go, but Jacob refuses, demanding the spirit's name. This thing that Jacob struggles against does not prevail against him, so it blesses him, changing his name from Jacob to Israel--one who struggles with God. The journey of Jacob has taken him away from his home after cheating his brother, off to his kinsfolk where he marries Leah and Rachel, away from his father-in-law whom he has bested with the Lord's help, back into Esau's presence. His whole life has been a struggle, and we see in this encounter that it has been a struggle with God. Yet God is faithful, and Jacob is faithful. And from this encounter Israel is born.

The parable of the widow invites us to struggle with God in a different sort of way--not all at once in a dramatic encounter but over time through prayer. Jesus presents a portrait of God and prayer that tells us that God will grant us the justice we seek, but the parable reminds us that sometimes we need to ask and ask and ask until we receive it. As I wrote yesterday, this parable isn't designed to teach us to annoy God into granting our request. Instead, Jesus is reminding us to be persistent--to be faithful. We are not to lose heart. Even when God's justice is delayed, we are to continue to seek it. We are to remember to look to God as the one who can give us our relief. When that relief is delayed, when it seems so far off as if it may never come, we are not to give up, and that is the greatest struggle of all.

Is God even there? Does he even hear us? Will he ever answer our prayers? To remain in relationship with God even when God's justice is delayed is itself a struggle. We could just give up. We could walk away. But God begs us to remain with him. God is the one who is known to us in the struggle. God is the one who reveals himself as we wrestle with him. We may not encounter an angel on a riverbank, but our struggle can be as real and as self-determining.

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