Fr Joseph O’Hanlon, a priest of the Nottingham Diocese, tells us a story from the Book of Genesis.
Fr Joseph O’Hanlon
Here’s a story. Not a history. An imaginary story, maybe a dream. It’s a story told in the first book you meet when you open your Bible, the Book of Genesis. It’s in Chapter 32. See what you make of it:
Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his 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 has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, 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 name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Peniel, limping because of his hip. Therefore, to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh.
Jacob wrestled with God and he came away with a new name, a new responsibility, and a new limp.
Now think of yourself reading the Bible. You are wrestling with God. You are trying to find the meaning of the words, the meaning of what is happening. You want to know more about God. God wants to know more about you. So the pair of you are wrestling. God is trying to make you understand. You are trying to understand what God wants of you.
You begin to understand, to learn something of the mind of God and something about yourself. And something about the two of you coming together to share a new future.
You’ll probably come away with a new name, a Christian name, a determination to know, love, and serve God throughout your life. It’s not easy. That’s the limp. But God will limp a bit, too. For if God is loading your shoulders with new responsibilities, then God has new responsibilities. If you are to meet new challenges, you need new blessings. If you are to take on new challenges, you need new hope, you need strong faith, and you need oodles of love. And love is what God has got plenty of.
Fr Joseph O’Hanlon is a retired priest of the Nottingham Diocese and former Director of the International Franciscan Study Centre in Canterbury. His books include The Jesus Who Was, The Jesus Who Is, The Dance of the Merrymaker, Mark My Word, Beginning the Bible and Walk One Hour. Fr Joseph has a lifetime of experience teaching the Bible and a passion for communicating scholarship to adult Christians.