Homilette for Tuesday, July 7, 2008

Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary time

(Genesis 32:23-33; Matthew 9:32-38)

Today’s episode of the saga of Jacob takes place at least twenty years after his famous dream that was reported yesterday. In this long interval Jacob has acquired two wives and twelve children. He has become rich by hard work, skill, and cunning, but not through noticeable reliance on God. As he returns to his father’s land and to his probably vengeful brother Esau, a man attacks him. The two wrestle all night with neither actually prevailing. Then the assailant, in a hurry to leave, strikes Jacob at his hip which will bring about a limp. Still Jacob holds on tenaciously to make a bargain with his opponent. He will release him only if the man returns the favor with a blessing. The man gives Jacob a new name suggestive of his new stature. From now on he is no longer Jacob, a name which means heel catcher because he was born holding his twin brother Esau’s heel, but Israel, a name indicating that he has struggled with God and prevailed.

What are we to make of all this? For most of his life to this point Jacob has ignored God. As he is about to encounter his brother Esau, however, God throws Himself on Jacob in an act of saving grace. Jacob is forced to struggle with God, who mercifully does not destroy him but leaves him limping as a constant reminder of Jacob’s dependence. The incident changes Jacob’s life entirely. He is no longer defined by Esau, but by God whom he comes to acknowledge as Lord.

Perhaps we in our doubts and fears also struggle with God. It may be that out of love for God we always try to accommodate others. “Why,” we ask, “is it always I who must give in?” Yes, we are a bit jaded by the experience of forever making ourselves available. But we are also left closer to God who, we can be sure, has bestowed on us His blessing.

Homilette for Monday, July 6, 2009

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 28:10-22a; Matthew 9:18-26)

Jacob displays the character of most young people throughout time. He is obviously self-centered for he has just stolen the birthright of his older brother. He goes off seeking adventure although, to be sure, an angry Esau provides more than enough motive for him to leave home with all possible speed. He is also taken up by experience as he describes the site of his dream, in peculiarly contemporary fashion, as “awesome.” And he is reluctant to commit himself making a vow to God only with conditions. What more might be said of Jacob?

We have to say that he has much to learn about life. In growing up we come to understand that the world does not revolve around us. In fact, other people have needs that not only are different from ours but also, at times, we must attend to. Also we have to learn that God remains as the one whose commands we are to heed most. Pope Benedict XVI tells a story about himself that illustrates this lesson. Right after being ordained to the priesthood, he returned to his hometown in Bavaria for his first mass. The townspeople prepared elaborate festivities for their simple faith stood them in awe that one of their own could now turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. The young Fr. Ratzinger had to remind himself continually as he was receiving royal treatment, “This is not about you, Joseph. This is not about you.”