Readings: Genesis 32:23-33; Psalm 16; Matthew 9:32-38
Some time ago a good friend, the father of two boys, told me that his relationship with them was changing. The boys were then about 14 and 12 and whereas up to that point the father would allow them to win at football and other sports, things had now reached a point where he was unable to beat them even if he tried his hardest. His sons were now better than him at sports. Where once he had allowed them to win, now they won on their own ability and strength. It was a key moment in their growing up and it brought things home to my friend, about aging but also about pride (in positive as well as negative senses).
We can say, from stories like the one we read today from the Book of Genesis, that God wants us to be His adult children, grown up in the faith and in spiritual experience. 'Some man' wrestled with Jacob through the night - is it God, or an angel of God, or Esau his brother, or is it Jacob wrestling with himself? The experience is taken traditionally to be about prayer, the relationship between a human being and God. And about perseverance in prayer, through the night, until the day dawns. Jacob spends the night wrestling with God.
Relating between adults is, or at least ought to be, honest and straightforward, frank and trusting. We do not need to pretend to anything about ourselves, nor pretend to anything about how we are experiencing (or not experiencing) God. Just tell God all about this in prayer in the way that adults who trust and love each other can talk with each other about all the things that matter to them.
Life will wound us inevitably seems to be another point in this story of Jacob wrestling. But there is a wisdom to be gleaned from the struggle, a power in the wound. God is seen, and what would we not give for that vision. Jacob becomes Israel because he has seen God during this night of wrestling. Job is another great wrestler with God and he too comes to see. The outcome of Job's struggle is, on one level, not the answer to his questions that he was hoping for. At the end he has no more knowledge about God that he had at the beginning. But he does get the other thing he asks for: a face to face meeting with God and a chance to put to God the points he has already put to his 'comforters'. 'I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear', Job says at the end, 'but now my eye sees you'. We can imagine Jacob saying something similar: I had believed in the Lord, the God of my fathers, but now I have seen him.
But no one can see God and live - at least they cannot go on living in the way they did before. The struggle with God, in prayer and suffering, changes us, of that there is no doubt. It would be appropriate to give everybody a new name as they emerge from such a struggle. Jacob came to see and is changed and Job came to see and his life too is transformed. We believe that in the most radical sense Jesus always saw God, was never for a moment without the fullest possible human realisation of God's reality and presence. Nevertheless Luke's account of the agony clearly echoes today's first reading, Genesis 32. The struggle goes on, through the night. An angel comes to 'strengthen' him (for the ongoing struggle). Being in agony he prayed more zealously, and his sweat was like gouts of blood descending to the ground. Jacob limps after his night of wrestling with the Lord. Job's life is never the same again although he is given a new family and restored possessions. Jesus enters even more deeply into the world's wrestling with God in his betrayal, passion, and death. But the morning of the resurrection brings not just one New Man with a new Name, but a whole new creation. The struggle in prayer and suffering, whatever forms it takes in individual lives, prepares us for the joyful vision of God's light. In us it is always a function of what has happened to Jesus.
As we continue to pray for labourers in the Lord's vineyard, we pray that those already working in it will understand the meaning of the difficulties they experience, especially the interior difficulties. We are thinking of bishops, priests and deacons. Also of teachers and catechists. And parents, spiritual directors and counsellors. All of these vocations oblige those who receive them to find words that will enlighten, guide and encourage. Not to remove people from the struggle, but to strengthen them to persevere in the fight.
Bringing everything to God in our prayer, we pray that through our perseverance in prayer and suffering, we will become more and more God's adult children, growing (like Jesus, with him, and in him) in wisdom and in favour with God. The hero in Chariots of Fire says that when he runs he can feel God's pleasure. When we fight with God, engaging as adult children with Him, then we can say the same: we can feel the pleasure of God that his creature is fighting with Him, wanting more than anything to stay with Him, wanting more than anything to believe in and to love God.