The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
My favorite jokes about 2020 go something like this - Question: If 2020 was a drink, what would it be? Answer: The stuff they make you drink to prep for a colonoscopy. In other words, not great, right? This line of joking got me thinking about if 2020 was a Biblical character, would it be? There are tons of possible answers, but this week, let's think about Jacob.
Due to his trickster ways, Jacob ended up living twenty years of his life in exile, away from his family. During that time he got married, had children, and grew as a person. Then he sought to return home, return to 'normal' one might say, even though it was an uncertain journey to make - he had no idea how his brother would receive him. On his journey home, Jacob struggled with a stranger for an entire night - refusing to let go (even after he was struck so hard his hip went out of joint!) until he was giving a blessing and a new name.
So if Jacob is our answer to “if 2020 was a biblical character”, what do we learn from him?
We learn that sometimes leaving normal can change you for the better. Jacob leaves behind his trickster ways and becomes a more honest man. Perhaps we can reflect on how our experience has changed us for the better - perhaps making us more aware of the needs of those around us, or giving us the time to slow down and evaluate what is truly important in life.
We learn that sometimes returning to a ‘new normal’ can be better than what we left behind. Jacob returns home to a much better relationship with his brother than he ever had before. In what ways can we make our lives together going forward better than before?
We learn that our experiences - both good and bad - will forever change us. We might not come away with a permanent limp or a new name, but we will be changed in significant ways. May we seek to hold on to the good changes, while learning to live with the more difficult ones.
We learn that in all things there are blessings - even if we have to struggle to find or receive them.
Jacob, the trickster, isn’t always the best role model for how we should live our lives. But he does show us something about how to handle adversity, and the unexpected, and how to take the good with the bad. 2020 isn’t going to be anyone’s best year. But if we face it with courage, and with clinging to God to receive our blessings, we just might get something good out of it yet.
God of tricksters and truth-tellers, be with us in all of our struggles. Help us to cling to you until we see the blessings that you have given to us, even in this difficult time. In Jesus' name, we pray, Amen.