Engaging the Word: Readings for 8/3/14 (8th Sunday after Pentecost)

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By Barbara Klugh

Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 17:1-7, 16; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21. Go to www.lectionarypage.net for the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings, Jacob wrestles with God, Paul is in anguish that the Israelites have rejected Jesus Christ, and Jesus feeds five thousand.

Genesis: In last week’s reading, Jacob married Laban’s daughters, Rachel and Leah. The lectionary skips over about twenty years; Jacob has become the father of many children. In addition, after serving Laban for fourteen years for his wives, he serves for another six years in exchange for certain sheep and goats. Jacob “grew exceedingly rich” with his flocks because of information about breeding which he learned about in a dream. Laban and his sons were jealous of Jacob’s success and Jacob fled with his family, slaves, and livestock back toward Canaan, his homeland. Laban caught up with them, and after some family drama and divine intervention, they make a covenant not to harm each other.

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, by Alexander Louis Leloir (1865). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, by Alexander Louis Leloir (1865). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In today’s wonderfully strange story, Jacob continues on his way toward home. He seeks reconciliation with his brother Esau, but he’s nervous about meeting him, because he cheated Esau out of his birthright and blessing. On the night before he is to meet with Esau, Jacob sends his family and livestock across the Jabbok River while he will stay alone on the other side.

That night Jacob encounters a man who “wrestled with him until daybreak.” During the struggle, Jacob’s hip was put out of joint. At daybreak, it becomes clear that this mysterious stranger is none other than the Lord himself. God says, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” God blessed him, and Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” It is through Jacob that God’s chosen people are named Israel.

Is this story not one of the human condition? All of us—at least the people I know—both wrestle with God and are blessed by God. Not every encounter will leave us limping, but we will be changed in some profound way. And sometimes it hurts. Yet, as we read in Paul’s Letter to the Romans last week, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

Psalm: Attributed to David, this week’s psalm is a plea for God’s vindication and protection from enemies. In my Prayer Book, I highlighted verses 3-5, and wrote in the margin, “Live to make these words true.”

Weigh my heart, summon me by night, *
melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.

I give no offense with my mouth as others do; *
I have heeded the words of your lips.

My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law; *
in your paths my feet shall not stumble.

St. Paul at his Writing Desk (1629-1630), by Rembrandt. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

St. Paul, by Rembrandt (1629-1630). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Romans: After last week’s glorious passage about God’s unshakeable presence and grace, Paul professes “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” He is bewildered and distressed by Israel’s rejection of Jesus Christ. In chapters 9 – 11, Paul attempts to come to grips with this troubling question.

In the week’s reading, Paul is so grief-stricken over Israel’s unbelief that he would willingly sacrifice himself if it would bring his fellow Jews to Jesus Christ.

Paul then lists God’s great gifts to Israel: They are a special nation—Israelites. This is the name given to Jacob by God. They were adopted by God. They have had God’s glory revealed to them. They have been given the covenants, the law, temple worship, and the promises. They are able to worship the God of their patriarchs. Now they have the greatest gift of all: Jesus, “the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”

Matthew: This week, we read the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, which is recorded in all four gospels. Just before our reading, Jesus learned that John the Baptist had been beheaded. Not surprisingly, our selection begins, “Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” But the crowds continue to follow Jesus, and when he went ashore, “he had compassion for them and cured their sick.”

Miracle of the Bread and Fish, Giovanni Lanfranco (1582 - 1647). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Miracle of the Bread and Fish, Giovanni Lanfranco (1582 – 1647). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

When evening came, the disciples asked Jesus to send the crowds away to buy food for themselves in the villages. Here’s the rest of this great story:

Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Scholars classify it as “nature miracle,” an action that shows Jesus’ authority over the natural world. It’s also called a “gift miracle,” because of the miraculous and abundant provision of resources. Other commentaries remark that this event foreshadows the Last Supper as well as the Eucharist.

John Hiigel chose this story for Day 1 in Partnering with the King, his 30-day course in discipleship through the study of Matthew’s gospel. When Jesus said to the disciples, “You give them something to eat,” and the disciples brought the five loaves and two fish, Hiigel says this is how discipleship works. “They brought Jesus what they had, and he blessed it and enabled them to love the people effectively and to meet their needs.” Our job is to go and do likewise.

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