Gn 32:23-33; Ps 17:1-15; Mt 9:32-38
Little kids like to play hide and go seek. They sometimes cover their eyes and pretend to be invisible because they cannot see the world around them. Even if we have long grown out of childhood, many of us still, flee from foes. Jacob is still fleeing from the uncle behind him and trying to hide from the brother ahead of him. In the course of the night before crossing a boundary in his flight Jacob contends with divine and human beings, and he prevails. Likewise, the Lord Jesus contends with his enemies and foes on every side. The crowds are filled with awe and wonder; the Pharisees accuse Jesus of performing miracles by the power of the evil one. The only place to hide is no place at all. The only safe place to be is in the Savior, in the shadow of his wings. Here in this Liturgy we behold his face, and on waking, we shall be content in his presence.
Our Father Jacob has just crossed the ford of the Jabbok. His family is safe, and the last leg of his journey home begins tomorrow. In the midst of his fear of meeting Esau, Jacob spends a whole night when he is left at the riverside, alone. The interior struggle with his anxiety is vividly viewed in his wrestling match with “some man.” As the dawn is about to break the stranger finally gives up and Jacob prevails over him, but not before he struck Jacob’s hip at its socket. This unforgettable injury remains long after the fight has ended. Indeed even the children of Israel do not eat the meat from the hip socket to remember this divine/human struggle. However, the physical injury is not the only change Jacob must endure. Jacob requests of the stranger, “What is your name?” Knowing someone’s name back then gave you a certain control over that person. Jacob wanted to defeat his opponent in every way, physically and spiritually. This he would have done had the stranger surrendered his name, however, this victory was not to be! Instead the divine contender commands a name change for his human opponent. Jacob becomes Israel. We, too, are children of Israel; we, too, contend with divine and human beings. We, too, are victorious in Christ Jesus the faithful descendent of Isaac.
Our Lord Jesus confronts both the crowds and the Pharisees in today’s gospel. The crowds are the abundant harvest that the Pharisees can’t be bothered with, but they are truly open to Jesus. The Lord Jesus is accused, by the powerful of his day, of driving out demons by the prince of demons. He contends with divine and human beings, and he is victorious. The mute speaks and the demon is driven out; power is used by the Lord Jesus to heal, deliver, and save! The Pharisees find it next to impossible to see pure motivation in Jesus because they have within themselves, impure motivation. The crowds, however, do not have such a problem with power; they are not seeking to prevail over Jesus. This compassionate crowd-response to the Lord Jesus is reciprocated as he catches sight of the crowd. His divine-human heart is moved with pity for them, because they are like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus also refers to them as an abundant harvest. Both of these farming images help the crowds to respond with faith to the One who “First Loved Us.” Indeed, under his wings we are hidden, and on waking we are content to be in his presence. At this Eucharist we wake and are healed of being mute to give voice to his praise, to echo on earth the jubilation of the saints in glory.