Have you ever known a person who always seems to get away with bad behavior?
I inherited an old-fashioned phrase from my mom for how you wish that a ne'er-do-well would get their just reward: getting their ‘comeuppance’. While my boys were growing up, whenever the family watched a movie together in which the bad guy always seemed to get away with causing trouble, I would turn to my kids and say, “I hope this guy gets his comeuppance!” They would respond like typical kids who think their mom is a little weird with a roll of their eyes. You know what I mean.
Jacob, one of the Patriarchs of the Jewish faith, is such a character who needs to get his comeuppance; he has cheated and manipulated his family and is way past due for receiving his just reward! So when Jacob meets God in a dream, one would assume that God, the ultimate Judge, will dole out Jacob’s well-deserved and overdue punishment. But recall that Jacob is a born wrestler literally; during the birth of Jacob and twin brother Esau, he grabs his brother’s heel as Esau heads out of the womb first for fear that Esau will be given their father’s birthright (Jacob eventually steals Esau’s birthright, causing such hatred in Esau’s heart that he vows to kill his brother). Jacob is a formal opponent--even for God. As dawn breaks, the man (God), weary of wrestling Jacob, slaps him on his hip, causing it to go out of joint. Jacob leaves the wrestling mat with a permanently damaged hip. But he also receives something much more important: the divine blessing of a new name (Israel, or ‘One who strives with God and with humans’).
We know that God’s power is so mighty that God could have meted Jacob’s comeuppance in a manner much more severe than a permanently displaced hip joint. We also know that God’s ways are beyond understanding; God, divine Judge, is also the God of mercy and love. This wilderness dream-fight turns Jacob’s heart around, and the rest is history. Jacob makes up with his brother, Esau, and his offspring become the twelve tribes of Israel.
I find this story humorous, as with many stories in the Hebrew Bible. But it is also a message of hope for sinful humanity; if God took time to wrestle with a scoundrel like Jacob, God has time to wrestle with us. God, the ultimate Judge, is also the God of mercy and love, and will wrestle with us as an invitation to redemption and new life. So the next time you feel as if you are wrestling with your faith, know that God is there within your pain. Don’t count on getting your hip slapped out of joint, but something much more life-changing!