Genesis 32 and Matthew 9
As I attempt to do any theological reflection, I always pray for focus.
Focus, first and foremost, on the words of Sacred Scripture. I ask the Holy Spirit for blinders; the strength to ignore the compulsions that urge me to check my phone notifications, change seating positions, refill my mug, or strike up conversation with a family member. My self-discipline is not perfect and, because of this, I find that I am plagued by unnecessary interruptions and the need to engage with life’s daily distractions. In fact, as I type this, I am struggling to commit my full concentration to the task at hand.
I know that I could make it easy for myself. I could blame other people, or even my pets, for all of my short-comings. It would be simple enough to say, “I lost the momentum to write a blog post because my sister asked me to help her with computer troubles,” or “I stayed up late listening to a friend so I was too tired for Bible study.” I could make these temporary excuses, say that there wasn’t enough hours in the day, but the reality is that I end up ultimately feeling disappointed in myself and my lack of personal devotion. My spiritual life suffers because I am not wrestling with Scripture. I am not allowing myself to sit in silence, to meditate on the texts, to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, or to be in conversation with our Lord. I feel ashamed by this realization. I feel as if I am constantly preaching to others about how God is always deserving of our time, love, and attention, but afterwards I am not “walking the walk.”
It is hypocritical.
No one, other than myself, is hurt from my hypocrisy. God certainly does not need my prayers or my spiritual works, but God has, however, made it clear that doing so is in my best interest. God wants us to be a peace, to come to faith, to be charitable, to live humbly, and to be compassionate towards all Creation. God desires our presence in the eternal afterlife. He desires this so much that He sent His own Son to redeem a fallen humanity. He gave us the tools, and the divine empowerment, so that we can continue to appreciate the magnitude of what was Christ’s earthly actions. God the Father and God the Son sent forth the Holy Spirit, not only so that the Good News could be shared with the people of the world, but so that the people of the world could understand the revelation that IS the Good News. It is silly to think that I would consciously forgo the resources to salvation, substituting them instead for material distractions, but that is what happens with the majority of my free time.
Thanks be to God, the Good News is that we can “repent, and believe in the gospel.” [Mark 1:15] Thanks be to God that there is never a bad time to proclaim that Jesus is Savior and to ask the Lord for forgiveness of our sins. Thanks be to God that there is never a bad time to love ourselves, our neighbors, our enemies, and our Lord. Thanks be to God that prayers are meaningful and that they are heard.
If there is one message in particular that has struck me while I was reading and reflecting on today’s Scripture, it is that God hears us. God is compassionate towards us and God spares us.
God heard Jacob.
God lowered Himself so that Jacob could see “God face-to-face.” [Genesis 32:31]
God allowed Jacob to wrestle (physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually) with the divine. He was permanently scarred in the process [Genesis 32:26], but encounters with the Lord will always leave us with permanent marks. Our encounters with the divine will always leave us transformed. Jacob did not complain about this transformation. Rather, he recognized God’s power over him and asked for a blessing. And as God did for his grandfather before him, Isaac received a new name. A name that defines who Jacob (now Israel) has become – who he has transformed to be – in the eyes of the Lord.
Israel: the man whose faith prevailed. The man who trusted in God even when his body felt threatened by the acts of both heaven and earth.
Note that the body of Israel, though marked, had not been sacrificed. Israel’s faith in the Lord saved him from suffering a bodily death. Though he fought with God, looked God in the face, had been marked by God’s presence, Israel had been blessed. But more than that, Israel recognized his blessings. He recognized that God had been merciful toward him. He recognized that his “life has been spared.” [Genesis 32:31]
Israel recognizes in the Father what the woman with the hemorrhage, the two blind men, and the father of the dead girl, had recognized in the Son – God is merciful. When we are ready to humble ourselves before the Lord, to admit that we are vulnerable and in need of God’s guidance, we are received in love and clothed in an impenetrable shroud. And as is the purpose of all shrouds, we are protected from any and all destructive, external forces.
What does Jesus say to the Pharisees who attempt to rebuke him for dining with tax collectors? “Go and the learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'” [Matthew 9:13] Jesus had to challenge the Pharisees’s spiritual immaturity with the use of a scriptural reference. Yet, they still are barred from the revelation that they stood in the presence of God. The Pharisees chose not to celebrate acts of mercy, and if they did, I believe their definition of “mercy” was restricted. Their definition of “mercy” did not include those marginalized by society. They chose not to feel compassion toward those who were in need of God’s guidance. They were blinded by their prejudices and by their own self-righteousness. They were blinded to the Truth of who God reveals Himself to us as. And because of this, they were blinded to the face of God. The Pharisees could not see what the blind men saw. They could not see what Israel had saw. They could not recognize the Lord.
If we can not recognize the face of God even when we are stood in His presence, how are we to ever recognize the face of God in the form of His beloved Creation?
God tells us how. The Scripture explicitly tells us that compassion and mercy are the acts which pry our eyes open from out of our ignorance.
Israel did not possess the name of the Lord. He was denied this information even when he had blatantly asked for it. Yet, he recognized the characteristics of the Lord. He recognized compassion and mercy. That was all the confirmation his faith required.
The same could not be said for those who had rebuked Jesus. They were given the name of the Son of David, but did not recognize his compassion and his acts of mercy for what they were.
To circle back to my own struggles, I fear that my lack of focus in spiritual practices is preventing me from being able to recognize God in the world. What would happen if, when I stand in the presence of Jesus, he quotes the Prophets? Will I be prepared to appreciate the Scripture? As it stands right now, I feel less like a disciple of Christ and more of a hypocritical Pharisee. I know that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide me in the Way. I have faith in this Truth. I am thankful for this Truth. But I also know that I bear the responsibility to put forth the effort. I am to be like Israel. I must dedicate myself to wrestling with God. I must do more than just say that God is worth the time. I must devote time to God, and, for all the world to see, gladly bear the marks.