On most Sundays in my late primary school years, the Sunday pattern was very predictable.
We would head off to church at Brighton Presbyterian, duck home via the Ron-de-lai bakery to pick up lunch, and then my brother Bruce and I would be ready for the lunch time TV sports.
There were two possibilities. In winter, we would watch Sports world, with Rex Mossop on Channel 7
But for much of the year we would tune in to Channel Nine and watch World Championship Wrestling
The names still come back to me pretty clearly: Killer Karl Kox, Mario Milano, Larry O’Dea, and of course, Andre the Giant who is at least as well known for his role in the Princess Bride movie.
I could remember – though not necessarily perform – all the moves
The Sleeper hold, the Brain buster, the Pile Driver, the full nelson.
I’m sure that Sunday morning routine has helped make me what I am.
So what a sadness in life when I discovered that the wrestling that was happening
Wasn’t always completely and totally real. Some of it was even choreographed and planned.
Ah, the emotional scars that I must still carry from that bitter disappointment!
Though wrestling isn’t always, planned and choreographed. Some wrestling is very real.
For years Jacob has been wrestling – supposedly born holding on to the heel of his twin.
fighting in a family where parents played favourites
doing what he could to get himself set up in life, no matter what cost his brother
wrestling with his father in law so he could get the “right bride”
and now ready to meet again – years down the track – with the brother who has promised to kill him
So Jacob plans and schemes to work out how he, or at least his family, can survive.
Jacob sends the family groups ahead and he is left alone.
And in that time, by himself, he ends up in one more wrestling match.
He may have originally thought it was Esau, or a spy from Esau.
But in any event he knew this person was out to make life difficult – so he wrestled.
But we get the story from Jacob’s perspective.
And we have come to know that Jacob wasn’t always entirely clear and open in his thinking.
The story is written to hold Jacob – or Israel as he becomes known – in great light.
He is the one who was so strong that he wrestled with God face to face and survived.
But like all good readers of the Bible, it is worth asking questions back at the story.
Let’s assume that it really was God – or at least an angel – that Jacob was wrestling with somehow.
And let’s ask some questions back.
Do we think that if God – or an angel – were going to give all of their efforts in a wrestling match
that Jacob would have come out the event with a bit of a limp?
And do we think that God’s perspective in life is to try and out muscle us in life’s scheming?
I wonder if the Genesis story about Jacob/Israel is a bit of self-justification.
Jacob’s perspective in life doesn’t seem to have changed from birth:
“I will not let you go until I get a blessing”
He has turned everything in life into a competition/ wrestling match.
When we get to God embodied as human some thousand of years later
Jacob’s attitude to life doesn’t seem to be the attitude we find in Jesus.
Instead of “I will not let you go until I get a blessing”
Jesus speaks to his disciples about the crowds, and says
“Do not send them away until we have blessed them.”
If we take our understanding of the character of God from Jesus,
then maybe the ‘wrestling match’ in Genesis 32 may not be quite what it seems
I somehow wonder if we had the same story told from the perspective of the angel, rather than Jacob,
it may have been more like
“I came to Jacob when he was alone and troubled and facing one of his worst times
and I held him through the darkest of the night.
But no matter how much I held him, he just kept struggling.”
Or maybe what was happening was that God’s messenger was keeping Jacob safe
and protecting him from himself while he struggled through the dark night of the soul
We have turned struggling in life – and even struggling with God – into an art form.
We have turned struggling with God into a way of being.
I fear that there is at least part of our experience, which projects our insecurities onto God
and assumes that God wants to struggle with us before we get anything.
We can end up quoting that well known Bible verse that “God helps those who help themselves”
without remembering that it actually isn’t a bible quote at all – it is from Aesop’s fables –
Hercules the Waggoner – and it is moralistic, not grace based.
In fact the true quote is that the moral of the story is that “the gods help those who help themselves”
Doesn’t sound to me like a great Christian perspective.
I know someone well who seems to turn everything in life into a struggle
If things are going well, it is because they have been ‘walking in the right path with God’.
If things are not going well, it is because they have strayed from that path.
It must be an absolutely exhausting way of living,
and one which means that they are always having to justify themselves.
Moment by moment, Action by action, day by day.
Matthew tells us of the occasion when Jesus would himself have been in the darkest of times
His cousin, mentor and friend, John the Baptist, has just been killed
and the word is out that Herod is ready to get Jesus too.
And so he retreats a little. Gets some space.
Thousands of people follow, because as Matthew sets the story – they wanted to be with Jesus.
And Jesus’ perspective is not to wrestle with them, or ignore them
or ask them to justify why they are there, but simply to look with compassion.
That’s the way that God works
Author Annie Lamott says that God loves you just the way you are
and loves you too much to let you stay that way.
Holding us while we wrestle with God until we may even end up realising that we were wrestling with ourselves
And even as we do the wrestling, asking us to face up to who we are
name our identity, our past, and maybe even what is making us struggle so much.
And then in the embrace that never fails, blessing us
and nourishing us with more than we could ever imagine was there in the first place.
Maybe it is time for us to let go of part of our struggle
and trust that God is not one to fight with, but one whom we can allow to embrace and feed us.