We are talking about growing in love –love of God, love of neighbor, love of self.
But what does love of God have to do with love of my neighbor?
Maybe more than we think.
24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.25When 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. 26Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 32Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.
Now Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. 2He put the maids with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. 3He himself went on ahead of them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near his brother.
4 But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. 5When Esau looked up and saw the women and children, he said, ‘Who are these with you?’ Jacob said, ‘The children whom God has graciously given your servant.’ 6Then the maids drew near, they and their children, and bowed down; 7Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down; and finally Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down. 8Esau said, ‘What do you mean by all this company that I met?’ Jacob answered, ‘To find favor with my lord.’ 9But Esau said, ‘I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.’10Jacob said, ‘No, please; if I find favor with you, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God—since you have received me with such favor. 11Please accept my gift that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have everything I want.’ So he urged him, and he took it.
We are, obviously, parachuting into the middle of a long and messy story. Here is the nickel version.
Like the last time we were in Genesis, this is a story of strife between two brothers. Jacob and Esau are, in fact, twin brothers. But Esau is the older one and therefore, under the rules of primogeniture, is set to inherit all of his father’s property.
And he would have done just that –if Jacob had not tricked him.
In Genesis 27, we read the elaborate story of how Jacob tricked his father into conferring the blessing on him instead of Esau. Jacob’s deception is deadly serious and Esau vows to kill him.
20 years go by before they see each other again.
Jacob flees for his life and has a whole series of adventures: he has a vision of angels ascending and descending (“Jacob’s Ladder”), and then ends up living with his Uncle Laban. Laban is every bit the manipulator and trickster that Jacob is, and each tries to get the better of the other. Eventually, Jacob amasses a large family and a small fortune. Life has been good to Jacob.
But Esau is still out there.
Our passage for this weekend—containing portions of chapters 32 and 33—is part of the longer story of Jacob and Esau’s reconciliation. It is drawn out, thick with tension. (In his Genesis commentary for the Interpretation series, Walter Brueggemann writes, “The narrator has found a style to carry the listening community along the tortured and risky way to reconciliation”). Chapter 32 begins with Jacob—perhaps knowing that an encounter with Esau is now inevitable—making anxious preparations for their eventual meeting. He sends elaborate gifts to his estranged brother. He also sends his wives and children across a river, out of harm’s way.
It seems safe to say that Jacob may be hoping for the best but he fears the worst.
The night before the brothers are to meet, Jacob waits, anxious and alone. In the middle of the night he is attacked by a mysterious assailant. They wrestle until dawn. Neither one can get the upper hand. At daybreak, the stranger blesses Jacob with a new name: Israel, meaning, “the one who strives with God.” And then Jacob, in turn, names that place Penuel: “For I have seen God face to face.”
The next morning, Jacob and Esau meet at last. And…they reconcile! Instead of killing his brother, Esau runs to meet him, embraces him, falls on his neck, kisses him. And the brothers weep together. It is a powerful moment of human connection and healing.
So how does something like this happen? How can brothers long estranged be brought back together in love? Mostly I am saving that for my sermon. But simply consider this: In 33:10, Jacob says, for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God.
Like seeing the face of God.
Jacob knows a thing or two about that.
Sometimes seeing God’s face is the secret to loving our neighbor.
See you in church!