Genesis 32:22-32

Article excerpt

As THE DESCENDANTS of Abraham and Sarah remembered their history in narratives that formed, informed, and reformed their distinct identity as the people of God, they told and retold the story of Jacob at the Jabbok. This and other traditions collected and interwoven into the Jacob cycle of the ancestral narrative that dominates the gospel of God in Genesis remind us that in different times, places, and circumstances the community of faith recalled, revised, and proclaimed its traditions with various, sometimes disparate, interests, emphases, and characterizations. In a matrix of constantly shifting circumstances, the dynamic between traditions, the community of faith, and God's ongoing self-disclosure was exactly that-dynamic.

Although we can say with certainty that we do not, and cannot, know all the ways in which the story of Jacob at the Jabbok served God and the community of faith, we can detect vestiges of several in the story as we know it. In this dramatic account of Jacob's "face to face" encounter with God, the text retains a conflation of interests that includes Jacob as progenitor of Israel (v. 28); the mysterious transcendent yet immanent quality of the divine-human encounter (with whom exactly does Jacob wrestle?); the name and cultic status of Peniel/ Penuel (v. 30); a dietary practice (v. 32); and possibly a liturgical dance (v. 31).

This diversity of interests provides numerous points of contact from which to legitimately and authentically move to reflection and proclamation. Although we may no longer have much interest in the cultic status of Peniel/Penuel, we may want, or need, to ask who, what, and where is sacred to us today and why.

No less than our ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman forebears, we are charged with forming, informing, and reforming distinctive communities of faith-particular, connectional, and catholic.

No less than our ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman forebears, our communities of faith are called into being and continue to exist through dynamic response to the ongoing experience of God's grace. This must be explicit and proclaimed. If not, our religious life is not really our religious life at all. Rather, it is nothing more than the rote repetition of some painfully and insuperably remote life with God.

No less than our ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman forebears, our cultic life is shaped by our life and history with God. This must be explicit and proclaimed. If not, our religious life may become esoteric if not superstitious, or it may blow in the fickle winds of popular or personal fad and fancy.

No less than our ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman forebears, we are in a matrix of constantly shifting circumstances where the dynamic between our traditions, our communities of faith, and our God is exactly that-dynamic. This must be explicit and proclaimed. If not, our religious life is but an anachronistic eccentricity-a moribund memorial to a lifeless artifact.

With this text as gateway, a sermonic exploration of the obvious and incontrovertible combination, emendation, and variation of traditions in the Jacob cycle of the ancestral narrative will provide a powerful reminder that tradition is authentically interpreted and proclaimed in the context of dynamic dialogical engagement between the community of faith, contemporary circumstances, text, and living Lord. There is certainly warrant in our contemporary circumstances for a reminder that scripture itself models, even compels, an appropriation of texts that is dynamic. In its very form and content, scripture forbids stagnation and stultification. God's self-disclosure is ongoing. The "Spirit of truth" continues to. "guide [us] into all truth" (John 16:13).

Although, as we have noted, there are a number of conflated interests in our text, they are now secondary, if not incidental, to the text in its canonical form and context. Jacob at the Jabbok is essentially a crucial episode in the progressive development of the larger narrative that constitutes the book of Genesis: the narrative that proclaims God's eternal and prevailing creative intention with attendant accounts of divine-human encounter. …