“…And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of day…” Gen. 32:24
In 1985, Oprah Winfrey set the world on fire with her poignant acting debut as “Sophia” in Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of Alicia Walker’s “The Color Purple.” Out of the many quotable moments in the film, few things live rent-free in my head like Sophia marching through the cornfield to confront the passive Celie Johnson. Sophia, a newlywed bride to Harpo, had found herself in the middle of chaos and dysfunction. Harpo had been abusing Sophia in an attempt to control her. Sophia was aghast to discover that he had been given the advice to do so by his father and “stepmother”, Celie. Not one to mince words, Sophia cut right to the chase. She expressed in no uncertain terms that she knew Celie told Harpo to beat her, but she had the wrong one. Her pedigree was that she was not one to be counted out or controlled. She then told Celie, “All my LIFE I had to fight…”
Have you ever wondered why certain people just seem to be so resilient? Ever thought about why it is that they can weeble and wobble, but never fall down? I submit that they have “the Sophia Spirit”. Take Jacob, for instance. He is one of the first displays of this spirit, and this is where our meditation begins this month. Jacob was a twin. He shared the womb with his brother, and from birth, he fought. He held on to the ankle of his brother during childbirth, and never seemed to stop “fighting” for his place in the world.
Jacob and his brother were not reared the same. Esau was one who worked in the field and did more manufacturing jobs, whereas Jacob was reared to do more domestic work. Jacob’s mother knew that birthrights (much like insurance payouts and inheritances) were a major part of any child’s future. She also felt that in order for Jacob to have the “lions share” he would need more tangible wealth than his brother who could create his own. For that reason, she assisted Jacob in stealing Esau’s birthright with one bowl of porridge. That is a teach for another day, but that one diabolical act followed Jacob throughout his life. He feared his brother, and with good reason.
For years, Jacob avoided his brother and created his own life. He had done a good job of maturing and becoming a great man of value and integrity. But one can never run from unresolved issues that they refuse to confront. The time had come for Jacob to reunite with his brother, face to face, after years of silence and animosity. He found himself in several wrestling matches the night before the reunion. He wrestled with himself. He wrestled with his past. He wrestled with the truth of what he deserved and possibly would have to receive in front of others who did not know of his past doings. Suddenly, Jacob was alone, in the darkest of night, wrestling with A Man. Jacob could not let this man go. He had the experience since birth of a good grip, yet he couldn’t get a grip on the reality he had created. Finally, The Man, having understood that this persistent worrier (Jacob) was not going to let him go, he had to knock the hollow of Jacob’s thigh out of whack. He asked Jacob for hours until daybreak to let him go. Jacob emphatically replied, “I will not let you go until you bless my soul.”
Jacob’s request was an alarming one in many ways. He did not want money, bodyguards, or to evade his brother. He wanted a blessing. A blessing does not always look like one that we imagine. Jacob had readied a reconciliatory offering and did everything else to prepare for this. But his soul was sore. How many times have we known that we must face something but our souls were not matured enough to walk into it? How many times have we ourselves sought forgiveness or had to forgive someone who did not mean it, or did not have a change? I have always believed that an apology with words is only customary verbiage to begin reconciliation, and not the reconciliation itself. The true apology, however, begins in changed behavior.
Something had changed in Jacob over the course of his night. The hollowed hip produced a humbled heart. The sore hands allowed him to let go of his ego and pride. He had wrestled and lost, and it was evident in how he walked. I realize that we live in a society of “winning” where being first is the optimal choice. But how many of us are willing to wrestle away the brokenness of our souls, truly do our work, and lose a match with God, until it is evident to those around us?
Jacob met his brother that next day. His brother saw the change before they even uttered words to each other. He saw the hip, but moreover, he saw the heart posture. He forgave his brother. Perhaps all of your life you’ve had to fight, like Sophia and Jacob. I suggest you lose this one. Your pride is not worth your position. Change your posture.