The night before his brother, Esau, is to arrive at Jacob’s camp with a force of 400 men, Jacob safeguards his family and livestock by sending them across the river Jabbok. It has been twenty years since they have seen each other, but Esau still remembers Jacob’s trickery in taking his birthright. Left alone by the river, Jacob wrestles all night with an unnamed man. But the man was God and at dawn God blesses Jacob and changes his name to Israel. Thus in the narrative of Genesis, the source of the nation of Israel is revealed to the world.
Romans 9: 1-5
Having just forcefully declared that nothing can separate the faithful from the love of God and from Jesus Christ, Paul now begins a long discussion on the place of Israel in God’s plan. Dramatically put, Paul says he would be willing to be separated from God if that separation would mean inclusion for the people of Israel. What does it mean for God’s chosen people now that Jesus has come and a Gentile church has begun? Certainly Paul is troubled; Israel is his home. This passage only begins the wrestling Paul will do on the question of Israel.
This well-known story of the miraculous feeding on the shore of a lake occurs in Matthew’s Gospel immediately after the ruler, Herod, had dictated the death of John the Baptist. Jesus attempts to withdraw from the tumult of John’s death by secluding himself in a boat, probably on the Sea of Galilee. But crowds of townspeople, shocked by John’s murder and calling upon Jesus to offer words of explanation, gathered on the shore to listen to him. But by evening the mass of followers are hungry and in the tale every Sunday school child has heard, Jesus feeds the five thousand. The symbolism here is plentiful: bread, the common food of First Century B.C.E., the sustaining food of Jesus’ feeding is the core material of the eucharist today where Jesus feeds us on Sunday. And this story of feeding also symbolizes the responsibility of Jesus’ church to care for its members and those who come to it in need.