Those who attend the annual Scranton Charismatic Conference have likely seen the University of Scranton’s statue of Jacob wrestling the “angel” in one of the commons areas. Pope Benedict used that incident from Genesis 32:23-32 as the lesson in the fourth class of his school of prayer. I’m glad he did, because that’s one of the bible stories that I never quite understood.
After reviewing the context of the Scripture passage, and recapping the wrestling match for us, our Holy Father sheds light on an Old Testament concept:
To know someone’s name, in fact, implies a kind of power over the person, since the name, in biblical thinking, contains the most profound reality of the individual; it unveils his secret and his destiny. Knowing someone’s name therefore means knowing the truth of the other, and this allows one to be able to dominate him. When, therefore, at the stranger’s request, Jacob reveals his own name, he is handing himself over to his opponent; it is a form of surrender, of the total giving over of himself to the other.
With that explained, the Pope provides an interpretation of this passage that can serve as a model of sorts for our prayer:
….Jacob’s night at the ford of the Jabbok becomes for the believer a point of reference for understanding his relationship with God, which in prayer finds its ultimate expression. Prayer requires trust, closeness, in a symbolic “hand to hand” not with a God who is an adversary and enemy, but with a blessing Lord who remains always mysterious, who appears unattainable. For this reason the sacred author uses the symbol of battle, which implies strength of soul, perseverance, tenacity in reaching what we desire. And if the object of one’s desire is a relationship with God, his blessing and his love, then the battle cannot but culminate in the gift of oneself to God, in the recognition of one’s own weakness, which triumphs precisely when we reach the point of surrendering ourselves into the merciful hands of God.
Pope Benedict’s own words are so thorough, so penetrating, that I’m at a loss for any kind of substantive commentary to offer. In light of his explanation, this passage, and even his own words, are truly worthy of some serious lectio divina.
His conclusion inspires in me a desire for greater perseverance in a heartfelt yielding to Him personal prayer:
Dear brothers and sisters, our whole life is like this long night of battle and prayer that is meant to end in the desire and request for God’s blessing, which cannot be grasped or won by counting on our own strength, but must be received from him with humility, as a gratuitous gift that allows us, in the end, to recognize the face of the Lord.
He who allows himself to be blessed by God, who abandons himself to him, who allows himself to be transformed by him, renders the world blessed. May the Lord help us to fight the good fight of faith and to ask his blessing in our prayer, so that he may renew in us the anticipation of seeing his face.