This Sunday the Old Testament reading is the stirring story of Jacob wrestling with God at the ford of the Jabbok. This struggle happens at a point of great uncertainty in Jacob’s life as he faces up to the challenge of reconciling and restoring his relationship with his brother, broken through his past behaviour. The episode is very mysterious, but what is clear is that it occurs at a changing point in Jacob’s life, where God renames him Israel and sets him on a new direction, and where new things are about to happen through him. It seems that Jacob could only discover this new path through painful grappling with God.
I was particularly struck by reading this story again today because I was privileged earlier this week to hear former Archbishop Rowan Willians speaking on arguing with God at critical points in our life journeys. His words seem to speak so much into Jacob’s situation and to our own stories that I would like to share them with you. Bishop Rowan was reflecting on Saul’s (Paul’s) experience on the road to Damascus which launched Paul on a whole new direction and reshaped his life. Paul identified himself as a most unlikely candidate for serving Christ, because of his history of ardent persecution of Christ’s followers. Bishop Rowan noted that God has plans for every one of us throughout our lives. Yet, very often as we grapple with understanding God’s call to us, our natural response is to resist, to argue: no thank you, Lord, not me … I’m not suitable … I don’t want to … I’m doing something else … I wouldn’t know where to begin to …
Our own stories are rarely as dramatic and our resistance and wrestling rarely as momentous as the experiences of Jacob, Moses or Paul, but we must still take courage from them. Bishop Rowan said in truth, we are all unsuitable for this challenge and we all have doubts at some point about our calling, whatever it may be. But God knows what he wants for us and what he has made us capable of, whatever our failings. Therefore, Bishop Rowan urged us all, whoever we are, to look out for and embrace God’s invitation along with all our doubts and nerves, and to discover the new identity and purpose – however big or small – that God has planned for us.
Thank you, Bishop Rowan.
Painting: Jacob Wrestling With God, Painting © 2011, by Jack Baumgartner. Photo courtesy of the artist.