This Sunday, October 20, we hear some thorny and fascinating stories from both Genesis and the Gospel according to Luke. In Genesis, Jacob is the protagonist (he's the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham) and his long career of shady actions is about to catch up with him. After sending his family and his flocks of livestock ahead of him, he has a visionary experience in which he wrestles with someone. Jacob demands a blessing before releasing this sparring partner, and gets it, but not without suffering a permanent wound to his hip. He realizes afterward that he was wrestling, somehow, with God, and his new name--Israel, "He strives/struggles with God"--reflects this experience.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells a story about a judge who does not fear God and shows no respect or favoritism to people. A widow appeals to him for vengeance or vindication (our mealy-mouthed translations says "justice," which is not very accurate) and despite his lack of regard for anyone, he relents. If he doesn't, he worries, she will give him a black eye ("wear me out" is our delicate translation). We never hear whether the widow's case is just, but only that she contends with the judge.
A whole lot of our sacred Scripture deals with such morally ambivalent stories. Jacob is in, in at least some ways, in the wrong before both God and human beings. But he holds fast to God and demands a blessing anyway. The widow may or may not be asking for something good and just, but she fights all the same. Jesus correctly understands that his audience--including us!--is more likely to need lessons in holding fast to what's good than in knowing what's good in the first place. Likewise in our Epistle for Sunday, we hear Paul tell Timothy to hold fast to the Word he has been given, whether the circumstances are favorable or not ("in season and out of season," some translations nicely have it). Timothy's courage is likelier to fail than his understanding and so that's where Paul puts his last emphasis.
I still haven't figured out exactly what I'm going to say about all this on Sunday, but I hope you'll be there to listen with me!
God's Work. Our hands.