Cheat! (Genesis 31 and 32)

Jacob is a liar and a cheat. He is second born, soft-skinned and slight of frame, loved by his mummy but not his father’s favourite and not the one in line for his father’s blessing and all the esteem and property that goes with it. So Jacob lives on his wits – bribes his hard-working, hungry brother with food and steals his dad’s blessing, when his dad is too old, weak and blind to know what’s going on. He runs cowardly away to Uncle Laban, then has to run from him with two of his uncle’s daughters, nearly all his flock and much of his wealth. Now Jacob’s caught between Laban coming after him in the desert and brother Esau and his army moving in from the opposite direction. Hiding half his stolen wealth, Jacob sends the rest ahead to try and bribe his brother to pardon him and let him go. As we meet him today, he is even sending his women, children and servants across the river, in case the bribe fails, in the hope that Esau will take pity on the poor defenceless waifs even if he rejects the peace offering.

And then….  Pacing, brooding by the dark and troubled river, with only his own frustrated schemes and feeble contingencies, Jacob is attacked by what he could only assume a demon. All night long they wrestle, until, as the new day begins to dawn and Jacob seems on the verge of prevailing, his opponent punches out his hip and demands release. “Bless me, first,” Jacob cries, perceiving that, whether demon or angel, this is no ordinary creature. To which his adversary, soon to be revealed as the Lord, responds, “Tell me your name.” TELL ME YOUR NAME!

Hebrew names had great power because they told of the essential essence of a person. If you said someone’s name then you had power over them. No matter what he/she says or does, you can always reply, “Hey! — You can’t get away with that; I know you.” The name of God could not be pronounced for that reason – ‘Just tell ‘em ‘I Am, Mo dude!’ Jacob’s name means the usurper, the supplanter, or, more loosely, the cheat. So when the Lord says ‘Tell me your name’ and Jacob replies, he is actually doing no less than confessing his secret self, with all its darkness and sin, to Almighty God. Jacob, now becoming aware of whose presence he is in, quite rightly might expect the worst. Certainly the Hebrew reader or hearer of the narrative has been coaxed to expect it. Now, at last, the story-teller suggests, Jacob’s going to get what he deserves! All those wrongs are about to be paid for! (Godfather returns J)

But what happens? God gives Jacob a new name – Israel – the man who wrestled with God and prevailed. Glorious reconciliation with Esau follows and a whole nation of God’s chosen will come through his own 12 sons. Jacob has confessed. God has wiped his slate clean!

This is Christ’s message of reconciliation. It is what we proclaim in baptism. The one baptised dies to sin and turns to life. Literally, baptism is a Christ-ening. In baptism, we are renamed with Christ’s own name! But there are many snares on the road of our Christ-life. We still fall into sin. That’s why we confess before we come to the Lord ’s Table every Sunday. But the confession, to be true, must be more than general, unconscious repetition. Repentance must come, after honest reflection, from the depths of our being, facing and naming before God the demons we find there.

Who are you? Really. What is your name? What is it that others call you?  More importantly, what is it that you call yourself? What is that name you can hardly even speak for fear or shame? Liar? Cheat or Fake, like Jacob? Unworthy, irresponsible, unfaithful? Disillusioned or burnt-out? Divorced, deserted, or widowed? Coward or bully? Unloved or unloving? Disappointed or disappointing? Abused or abuser? Outcast or hierarchy creep? Huh? Here. Silence now. Say your name in your heart right now to God. He knows it anyway, doesn’t he?

I know it’s painful. God knows it’s not easy. These names have power. Power over you. They eat you, don’t they? Make you so vulnerable. The names we wear and bear tell of our secrets. But if we confess them to God, truly, we will hear God’s unrelenting response:

No! No! You are Christ! To me you are Christ! You are my beloved, the one I chose and redeemed at great cost, the one to whom I am committed and to whom I promise to protect and care for all the days of your life. For you are my child. You are Christ!”

What if we imagine that church is a place we can come to each week and bring all our other names with us, confess them honestly and then leave them behind, go out each week in peace, simply as Christians, those who bear the name of Christ and who are armed with the love, commitment, and courage of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Israel, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? What if we just let what we do here in church remind us who we are and whose we are? We are God’s own children. And our name is his name. Hey. You. Your real name is ‘Christ’. Mas! Go out from here, every time you go out from here, and be Christ in the world. Amen.

~ by Fr Tim Ardouin on October 21, 2013.

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