Faith, Babylon and Iran
Thinking About Bodies...

The Key to the Entire Bible

When I was a senior in high school, applying to colleges, my mother paid for me to have a meeting with the guidance counselor of the private school in our neighborhood. She wanted to have someone read my application essays who had a better eye for what the Ivy League was looking for than she thought the guidance counselor of my public high school had.

I remember feeling kind of resentful of having to go to that meeting, but it ended up being incredibly instructive. I didn't learn that much about writing an application essay (she read through what I wrote, made a couple of grammar corrections and pronounced it acceptable). Rather, she told me something about the Bible which has affected the way I read it ever since.

My essay was about learning something through a struggle--isn't that what all college application essays are about? After reading it, the guidance counselor looked up and said, "Ah yes, this is a Genesis 32 story." I was quite surprised, and immediately started to worry that she meant I was going to have to write a different essay, something I really didn't want to do. She took my blank look as permission to continue. "You know," she said, "the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel. That's the key to the entire Bible."

I didn't know. I had never heard the story (despite having been in Sunday school for many years and gotten confirmed in my Presbyterian church) and I had no idea what it meant to say that story was the key to the entire Bible. She might have explained, but if she did, it didn't stick with me. Rather, her comment provoked me to go read the story on my own and figure out what she meant.

I've mused over that comment for over 20 years now. At first, I figured she meant the Bible was about the clash between human will and divine will. That probably reflected my own experience as an older teenager, when I felt like everything in the universe was designed to prohibit me from doing what I wanted to do. Later, I began to read the story as about covenant. Each party struggles to extract some blessing, and each loses something turn. Or maybe the story is about forgiveness? That's where Jacob is headed, after all. But before he can reconcile with his brother, he has to come face to face with God who will both wound him and give him a blessing.

Or maybe its about all of these things. The one thing that I know about the story is that it is a struggle. It's a fight where one party doesn't overwhelm the other. To say that this is the key to the entire Bible is to say that the Bible is not about (or not only about) submission to God. It's about engagement with God, and the wounds and blessings that result.

I sent a note out to the KC email announcements list with a preview of Sunday's service, and Kathy wrote back with another spin on the same passage. She had been searching the web for interpretations of Genesis 32, and found a delightful essay by my friend, Mary Luti, who writes about how God "forever ambushes our lives with new chances". Kathy wrote, "even when I've said "no" "no" "no" so many times, those new chances from God keep on popping up when I least expect it - and I have to make split-second decisions to act on them, or not. Isn't that really our job in this relationship with God? To see, to recognize the new chances that God puts in our path, and to take them!"

More on the passage in tomorrow's sermon!


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real live preacher

The wounds and blessings that result from the collision with God. Nice image. Beautiful writing.

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