Since our youth group theme for the year is "Gone Fishin," I've been studying in depth lots of different Scripture that deals with fishing, fisher-people, the disciples as fishermen, lakes/rivers, and boats. However, lately, I've been thinking through the story of Jacob wrestling with God/the angel by rhe river from Genesis 32. You can read it by clicking here if you don't know the story! In fact, I just finished writing a lesson for youth group in March where our youth use this story to focus on self-identity. After all, if we're called to be "fishers of people" then we might be the "bait" that attracts some one to Jesus, so we'd better know who we are!
Basically, in this story from Genesis 23, there's a man named Jacob, who wrestles an angel. Actually, the Bible is not totally clear on who it is that Jacob is wrestling – an angel, a man, God, perhaps. But they struggle hour after hour by the side of a river. And at daybreak the man says to Jacob, “Let me go!” and Jacob says to the man, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” And the man he’s been wrestling with says, “Well, what is your name?” This question, actually has a lot of history to it! Remember Jacob as in Jacob and Esau and the whole stealing of the birth-right thing?
Then I saw this video by Rob Bell (NOOMA) that adressed this particular topic! Bell's take on the stroy goes something like this:
This wrestling stroy takes place after the birth-right blessing story and Jacob has been struggling for a long time with who he is, exactly. But it is also more than that! You see, in the ancient near East (where Jesus was and this stroy takes place) your name was more than just words, your name was identity. Your name was reflective of your character, your substance, the very fiber that made you, YOU. Your name told who you are. So when this man that Jacob was wrestling with asked Jacob what is your name … ?” the real question I think he was asking is “Who we are.”
How much of our pain comes from not being able to answer that question?
Finally, this morning, God placed the stroy on my heart again (hence the reason I am sharing with you today)! I saw a status on facebook that came from Proverbs 4:23. It says: "Be careful what you think, becuase your thoughts run your life." As much as it convicted me to read this today, I really needed the reminder. I'd been looking at the stroy from the perspective of what I thought the message was that a teenager needed to hear about the story .... afterall, adolescence is certainly the most pronounced time for seeking to figure out who we are and know our self-identity. But, it's simply human nature (as an adult, teen, or sometimes even a child) to compare ourselves to others! Rob Bell puts it like this: "Some people are smarter, some people are stronger. Some people have more money. Some people have a certain body type. It’s just how it is. We’ll never live for ourselves if we’re constantly comparing ourselves to those around us."
I think Rob Bell is right when he says that the struggle of Jacob is the struggle of all of us! He reminds us in his NOOMA video "Name": "You and I have pasts, families we come from, mistakes we’ve made, things we’ve done, and where we’ve been and what we’ve done shapes who we are today. And so we have to embrace our story. You don’t have to be proud of it but you MUST claim it because it is yours."
I’m not sure that it was just by coincidence that Jesus chose fishermen to be his disciples. You see, fishermen in Jesus' day had to develop attributes that others did not have. They had to be skilled at their trade, knowing the when, where and why of fishing, but they also had to be patient, not easily discouraged, strong, hard-working and community- oriented. It seems to me, taking all of this into consideration, there is a deeper lesson for us here. If we don’t figure out how to be ourselves (whatever that is) and if we don't stop comparing ourselves to others and how we fall short of thier mark, we might miss the voice of God saying come follow me. And, we might miss the opportunity to be the bait – to inspire others to the rich, uncomparable life that God offers us at the riverside. Maybe sometimes God has to wrestle us to the ground to help us understand that. Do you feel the nudge?!