All This Has Happened To Me! (Day 14 of A Simple Lent)
The Jacob saga in Genesis is fascinating to me. Here is the grandson of Abraham, the blessed, receiver of the covenant, and he is a world-class jerk. Selfish. Thieving. Conniving. Not what you would think of as godly in any way.
And certainly not the person you’d want marrying your daughter. Let alone both of them.
But here is Jacob, running around, escaping death at the hands of his angry brother, then at the hands of the farmer he stole from (and whose daughters he married and is taking with him).
And he gets to the Jabbok river, sending his wives and possessions across. He holds back to make sure everything is OK [and because he spotted his brother on the other side and is freaking out]. And it is there that GOD comes to him and wrestles with him. Right there by the river.
They literally wrestle, grappling through the whole night, never letting up. Then, the next morning, GOD gives Jacob a kidney-punch to get him to relent and breaks his hip. I love this crazy story because it says some really fascinating things about the GOD we think of so monolithically.
It is also the story in which GOD renames Jacob, calling him Israel. Like his grandparents, Abram and Sarai, whose names were changed to Abraham and Sarah. This is honor and covenant.
The Name Change
What I notice throughout the remaining chapters of Genesis is that the text often refers to Jacob and it often refers to Israel. His name changes back and forth. And the conclusion I’ve come to is that whenever the man thinks only of himself, he is called Jacob. When he thinks of his sons and the family and the people and of GOD, he is called Israel.
This morning we’re greeted to Jacob.
His sons are giving him the update. They have the plan. Even Reuben, desperate for his father’s affection tries to break through and say that he’ll sacrifice his two sons if the mission fails. They’re pleading with their old man to let them bring their brother, Benjamin back with them. It’s the only way they’ll get Simeon back. They promise!
I am the one you have bereaved of children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has happened to me!
Jacob thinks this is all about him! Is he even caring for his son? His sons?
This really is the most common question we have in our faith: why me? Why has all this happened to me?
Jacob has assumed it has happened to him – supposing, of course, that GOD has done this to him. We often look at Job as the example of how GOD makes things happen to someone. But it is the Jacob story in Genesis which I think reveals much more.
For this is a man who has done all this to himself throughout his story. He has stolen from his brother. He has lied to his father. He has tricked his extended family. He has run away and stolen livestock.
And all along, he has been accepted and redeemed by his father-in-law and his brother. He has been loved and given his place by GOD in spite of all the terrible stuff he has done.
And then, he was given a name. A name for the nation that would be his.
And yet, he still acts as if all this stuff has happened to him. He is the most self-absorbed jerk of a protagonist in the Bible.
Man is he like us.
GOD doesn’t do us like that. This isn’t all about us. But it is about us, as in all of us. When he thinks only about himself, he’s still Jacob: the selfish jerk. When he thinks about what GOD wants, he becomes Israel, the mighty beloved nation.
In what ways does our self-absorption keep us unchanged? When does our worry about what is happening to us prevent us from being who GOD has called us to be?
When are we changed? When do we enter into the we of becoming and allow ourselves to become who GOD calls us to be? When are we most like the beloved of GOD?
Lent is a season of self-reflection and self-examination. It is about looking at ourselves and how we are so that we can be more of what GOD wants us to be. But that doesn’t have to be selfish and self-absorbed. In fact, the best self-examination isn’t.
I wonder if GOD gave Jacob his greatest desire knowing it was his greatest challenge. If this is what GOD has done for you, what might that be? What would that look like? And how would you respond?
Daily Office Readings
Or visit the alternative Daily Office I often use.
This week’s homework is to silence the distractions.
Download the worksheet: A Simple Lent-Handout 2!