Story for All Ages: Jacob Wrestling the Angel from Genesis 25, 27 & 32
This is a story about a man named Jacob. Jacob was a huge cheater. He tricked his older brother, Esau, into give up his whole inheritance for a measly bowl of stew, then Jacob cheated his brother out of their father’s dying blessing. When Esau heard about this, he was really angry, so Jacob ran away from home scared of what his brother might do to him. He ran to his Uncle Laban’s house and tried to cheat him, too. But Laban was the master cheater. He turned Jacob’s trick around on him and cheated Jacob out of fourteen years of work. After Jacob had worked all those years for his Uncle, and had married and had children of his own, he decided it was time to go back home and see his brother. Jacob was afraid to face his brother because he had cheated him so terribly. He was scared, but he knew he had to face him and to face up to what he had done.
The night before he arrived home, Jacob camped in a tent by himself, and, try as he might, he could not go to sleep. The bible says that on that night Jacob met a stranger and wrestled with him all night long, wrestling and turning, turning and twisting, for hour and hours. When the stranger saw that he could not defeat Jacob, he struck him hard on the hip and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.
The stranger said “Let me go, for the day is breaking.”
But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
So the stranger said to him, “What is your name?”
And he said, “Jacob.”
Then the stranger said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”
From then on Jacob walked with a limp, so he never forgot his encounter with the stranger.
Now some people think that on that night, Jacob wrestled with his conscience, with a part of himself. Some say it was an angel, some say it was God. What we do know from the story is that for Jacob’s whole life he had been cheating and manipulating people. But that night he changed. He was given a new name, a new way to look at himself, and so he began to live differently and no longer set his intention to cheat other people.
This is what Grace is about: It’s about being given another chance that we really don’t even deserve. Grace is about believing that even people who have done bad things, can still be blessed and be a blessing, and that no matter who someone is – no matter what they look like, or what they have done, how much money they have or where they were born – they are worthy of love and capable of loving.
What kind of person was Jacob at the beginning of the story?
How did Jacob change during the story?
On the night before he returned to see his brother, who did Jacob wrestle with in the tent?
How did the angel show Grace? Did Jacob do anything to deserve the blessing the angel gave him?
Can you think of a time you made a bad decision?
Discuss Grace, the unearned act of mercy
ACKNOWLEDGING THE GRACE OF CIRCUMSTANCE
There is a cultural bias in the U.S. towards financial success that says “if you have money, you have good character.” It is very close to “if you are successful, you did something to deserve it,” which is sometimes true and sometimes just good fortune and usually a mixture of the two. The flipside can also hold sway in our culture: if you are poor, unhealthy, uneducated, or unemployed, you have done something to deserve it. Outcomes, either good or bad, are often the result of things beyond our control: birth, culture, health (mental or physical), good or bad fortune. It is an important for our children to understand and acknowledge the Grace of circumstance and to realize that they did nothing to earn their position in a family who is or is not blessed with food, shelter, and parents who can take a lunch hour to help at school, are there each night to help with homework, who can pay for basic utilities and health care.
Children who are raised with a sense of entitlement often judge others for not having the same advantages. There is a lesson for hard work, studying, and making healthy choices, but acknowledging that good fortune was involved reduces the urge to judge the less fortunate. Being born on 3rd base and thinking you’ve hit a triple, only sets up expectations of entitlement, judgment and distance between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”
To help bridge this gap:
- Share your family’s story. How did you get your first job? Who was the first person in your family to go to college, train for a vocation, come to the U.S.?
- Explain the history of those who have been wronged through circumstance. Discuss historical and current movements that equal the playing field and right past wrongs: Affirmative Action, the Equal Rights, Anti-Apartheid, the recent settlement negotiated with Native Americans.
- Compare your family’s life to someone more or less fortunate and note that everyone has grace – the ability to be blessed and to be a blessing – regardless of their circumstances.
Little Answers to Big Questions: Are there Angels?
Question: Are there Angels?
There are many references to angels in our culture. Christmas brings stories of Gabriel announcing a divine birth, angels heard on high, Clarence earning his wings. This month’s story for all ages tells of Jacob wrestling with an Angel. What do we tell our children about angels? Angels are linked to the themes of Grace and Calling. As we travel the path of our calling where our unique talents meet the world’s needs, we may get off track or need guidance. In most stories, angels help people find their way to their true calling. This happens as an act of Grace or extreme good fortune.
From this aspect, teachers, mentors, and friends are all angels among us.
Answer: There are angels helping people every day.
Be an Agent of Grace: Simple steps to take action
- feed the birds or wildlife
- leave treats for a neighbor, a friend, or a stranger to find
- place coins by a wishing fountain for the next person to use
- pay for the next person in line at a toll booth, ticket line, or coffee shop
- give a compliment to everyone you meet for one day
- plan a kind gesture to a group: teachers, nurses, children, or patients
- visit Kiva.com, a person to person micro-lending website that allows individuals to select and lend as little as $25 to low-income entrepreneurs making strides to establish economic independence and improve life for themselves, their family, and their community. Throughout the course of the loan (usually 6-12 months), you can receive email journal updates and track repayments. Then, when you get your loan money back, you can lend it again to someone else.
What we believe:
Although Unitarian Universalism does not claim any religious doctrine as its supreme truth, our church covenant dictates how we conduct ourselves:
Love is the spirit of this church, and Service is its law.
This is our great covenant:
To dwell together in peace,
To seek the truth in love, and to help one another.
To make it possible to live out our covenant when we are in community, we have three simple Peace Practices:
- Be kind in word or deed.
- Respect yourself and all others.
- Everyone gets to play.