Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Tuesday in the 14th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Bow Your Heads and Pray for God’s Blessing…

Readings: Genesis 32:23-33; Psalms 17:1b, 2-3, 6-7ab, 8b and 15; Matthew 9:32-38

Many people receive a blessing in our readings today. The dumb demoniac is blessed with speech. The harassed and dejected crowds are blessed in the preaching and healing of Jesus who felt sorry for them. And even in Jesus’ invitation to pray for more labourers for the Lord’s harvest there is an implied blessing of vocation. Such an impressive and awe-inspiring array of different expressions of God’s compassion! It seems as though the people have only to open wide their hearts and hands to receive from God’s bounty.

And yet, not all are able to receive the blessings that are offered. We are told, for example, that the Pharisees said, ‘It is through the prince of devils that he casts out devils.’ As generous as God is to all, not all have what it takes to receive that which is freely bestowed on them. Not all are able and willing to bow their heads to receive God’s blessing.

Indeed, if the experience of Jacob in the first reading is anything to go by, receiving a blessing from God can often be something of an ordeal. The most striking characteristic of the story is probably the wrestling match between Jacob and God. And although it might at first seem strange, at some level, most of us can probably identify with Jacob’s experience, especially those of us who have been through crises of some sort, those who have struggled to come to terms with various situations or circumstances in our own lives.

There are also at least two other noteworthy characteristics to the story. First, we might notice how Jacob comes to wrestle with God. We are told that Jacob had taken his wives and slave-girls and children and all his possessions and sent them across the stream. And Jacob was left alone. It was in this solitude, after Jacob had voluntarily allowed himself to be stripped of all his material possessions, that Jacob comes face-to-face with himself and with his God. And it is out of this terrible face-off that a blessing is received. Wasn’t this the main reason why the Pharisees found it so difficult to recognize, let alone to receive, God’s blessing in the ministry of Jesus? Were they not too full of themselves and of their possessions? Were they not unwilling to face the solitude that each one must endure in order to meet God?

Also, isn’t it significant that Jacob did not emerge from his ordeal unscathed? The encounter leaves a mark on him. His hip is dislocated and he walks with a limp. Are we then to imagine that God wishes to maim us even as God blesses us? Or isn’t it rather the case that any authentic encounter with God transforms us and renders us ever more aware of our total dependence on God. Isn’t this part of the blessing God offers us: that we can no longer pretend to walk wherever we wish, relying only on our own strength? As Jesus tells Peter in John 21:18: when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go (RSV). God’s blessing enables us to hand over our lives to God, to follow and lean on the One who guides us on our way and who strengthens us to labour in the harvest of the Lord.

How might we bow our heads and pray for God’s blessing today?

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