Luke 18:1-8; Genesis 32:22-31
The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Have you noticed? There seems to be a growing crisis of anxiety and depression in our culture. More and more people are experiencing hopelessness and despair, and the reasons are all around us. Increasing gun violence, separating refugee families and caging children, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and fear-inducing rhetoric about the perceived dangers that are all around us. We hear these words day in and day out. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month.
All of these words constitute an actual spiritual assault on our collective soul. The words of injustice and hatred and fear that are constantly being heaped on us are having an effect. There is a correlation between the hateful voices we’re continually hearing and the deep sense of gloom we’re experiencing as a culture.
We’re not alone. These texts today speak to this cultural despair. One aspect of depression and anxiety is the belief that the hopelessness, the injustice, the anxiety of today is the way it will be from now on.
That is a lie and we cannot believe the lie. One of the reasons we fall prey to that lie is that far too often it’s the only voice we hear.
In both of these texts, the main characters are dealing with hopeless, anxiety-causing situations, but doing so all alone. The widow in the gospel is alone because she has no one to advocate for her, no one to speak encouragement and hope to her. Where is her community? She has to face this unjust judge all alone. The only voice she hears is one that says there will be no justice for you. There will never be justice for you.
In the Genesis text, Jacob is worried about his pending meeting with his twin brother Esau. And he has reason to be. Jacob cheated Esau out of both a birthright and a blessing. All his life Jacob has been a scoundrel and a cheat. As he returns to his homeland for a reunion with Esau in this chapter, he’s still trying to trick his brother. He divides his property into two camps, hoping Esau and his men will attack one camp and not the other. He then, in an attempt to soften up his brother, divides the tribute he’s bringing among three different groups of his servants. Jacob deals with his situation alone because he keeps dividing his property and household into smaller and smaller camps until he ends up alone. And alone, the only voice Jacob hears is one that says your brother wants to kill you and steal you fortune. So there will be no peace for you. There will never be peace for you.
Can’t we relate to these stories? It seems the only voices we hear are voices of hopelessness, injustice, despair, cruelty, division. It’s wearing us down. We’re starting to believe that what these voices are saying is true.
But there’s the word of hope for us. Somehow in both of these texts there is another voice that counters the lie. For the widow in the gospel, there is a voice that tells her that the injustice she is currently living with is not the only outcome. It doesn’t have to be a permanent reality. That little sliver of hope—that the lie of injustice she keeps hearing isn’t the way it will always be—is something she clings to. As she hears this other voice of hope and then boldly repeats it herself, she wears out even an unjust judge and a new reality emerges. The hopeless injustice of today gives way to the newness of tomorrow.
For Jacob too, another voice is heard. In his situation it is the voice of God who comes in human form during the night. The voice of God who is vulnerable enough and persistent enough to wrestle with him all night long. The voice of God who keeps offering the possibility of another outcome. The voice of God who winds up blessing him. The voice of God who wrestles the lie away from Jacob and as a result leaves him changed, scarred, tired, but with a new voice and a new purpose for his life. Jacob limps away from his encounter with God, but having heard God’s voice he begins a new life with a new name.
These are timely stories for us. Dark nights of the soul are now part of our daily human experience. What matters is that when we’re in the struggles of these dark nights, there is another voice we can listen to. There is a voice other than the one telling us there will only hate, only fear, that there will never be any hope, that there is no future. There is another voice that we can cling to. And what’s more, we can echo that voice right into the heart of that hateful, hopeless abyss.
What we know about God, what Jesus reveals to us about Gods, is that God speaks something different than the injustice and anxiety we see and endure. What these two texts tell us is to cling to that voice of God. Rather than struggle alone, we can speak together of God’s promise of justice; to encourage each other to never let go of God no matter how dark the night gets or how long the night lasts. We must not believe the lie that is spoken in the night. We must wrestle, cling, and continue to repeat the voice of God. Dawn is coming. Justice will be delivered.
The voices of hate and fear seem real in the night, but they are shown to be lies when the dawn comes. God comes to us and whispers words of truth, words of love, hope, and new life into our ears. It’s these words we cling to, these words we repeat, these words we remind each other. The dawn is coming. Hear the voice of hope, of justice, of peace, and of joy.
Hear them. Because they are words of truth.
Repeat them. Because they are words of encouragement.
Shout them. Because they are words of hope.
The hateful, frightening voices of the night will not win today. Speak words of truth to the person next to you: they are loved, they are worthwhile, the dark nighttime of injustice and despair is coming to an end. Together we can endure. God has spoken it.