There are two prodigal sons in the bible and I am always the first one: Jacob.

Jacob, that feisty thief, manipulating birthrights and blindness for his own gain, and what did he gain? The whole world, perhaps, two wives, at least, and a dozen kids, but what did he gain?

He was a man in search of what was not his, a new name, the name of his older brother; he was a slave to what he would have to work for, the wife of his youth. Everything he wanted was never within his grasp.

I am that brother.


Last night before the sermon finished out and we began to sing, my pastor talked a bit about how on good days it is so easy to believe the gospel, there are days when his soul is able to spot lies and speak truth to his propensity to walk by the law and not grace. But on the bad days, it is not so easy and those lies creep in that he has work for his salvation, that he has to work for what is not his by birth and only by grace. And oh, I felt that.

I felt that.

Then we sung about restoration, joy, and new names, and I thought of Jacob.

I am Jacob. I am always in search of what eludes me, what is not rightfully mine, and what I want so desperately. I know that wrestling he did at the valley of Peniel, I know that plea, "I won't let go until you bless me!" I know that angst, more than anything else I know, that unrelenting fervor until I have what seems possible. I will resort to thievery, bribery, or 14 years of hard labor if at the end there is something on earth to show for it.

He got what he wanted when he wrestled with God, but the new name was not the name he once sought to take and the blessing was not health, wealth, and prosperity, but a permanent limp.


The gospel is two things, it is a burden and it is light—Christ says this and I find myself still wanting it to be one or the other, but not both because my mind is simple and can only grasp what is logical. But this week I am seeing all the dichotomies in my faith, and why, perhaps, it is so difficult for so many to believe.

The gospel is full of dichotomies. Full of seeming contradictions. But I think, more and more, that this is why I believe it so strongly: I cannot live under the weight of the burden without the hope of the lightness, and I cannot thrive under the lightness without the weight of what it means.

I think Jacob must have known that. That night at Peniel, I think he must have known it in a way I can only dream about, that the love of God is deep and just and good and painful. That God gives us new names, but he bruises our hipbones in the process because we will run ahead stealing birthrights and wreaking havoc if we haven't got a limp to slow us down, remind us of the lengths to which His love goes.

Maurice Denis: Wrestling with the Angel 1893