Genesis 32: 23-33
He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.
Psalm 17: 1-3, 6-8, 15
Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry;
give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.
From you let my vindication come;
let your eyes see the right.
If you try my heart, if you visit me by night,
if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me
I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
incline your ear to me, hear my words.
Wondrously show your steadfast love,
O savior of those who seek refuge
from their adversaries at your right hand.
As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.
Matthew 9: 32-38
After they had gone away, a demoniac who was mute was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the one who had been mute spoke; and the crowds were amazed and said, “Never has anything like this been seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees said, “By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons.”
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Our first reading on the surface can seem a bit odd, and leaves us with more questions than answers. Who was this man that wrestled with Jacob? Why did Jacob ask for a blessing from someone who seemed to be attacking him? And, most importantly, what does God want us to learn from this story?
If there is one attribute that makes Jacob stand out, it is his understanding of the importance of blessing in his life. Whether he was impersonating his brother to receive his father’s blessing or asking for a blessing from the angel as they wrestled, Jacob did not make a move in his life without seeking God’s hand. So when he met the angel and was almost overcome by him, he recognized in his position of weakness his need for divine aid and an opportunity to seek it.
As Catholics, we may feel uncomfortable with the idea of shamelessly seeking blessing the way that Jacob did. After all, some of his methods appear greedy or aggressive, and the word “blessing” has taken on a connotation of material goods or success, so when that is emphasized, one can wonder where God really desires our focus to be, when we are also called to deny ourselves. But, in this context, asking for blessing is not simply seeking to satisfy ourselves under the guise of a relationship with God. Jacob wanted to walk in the will of God the way that his grandfather Abraham did, carrying out the plan the Lord had for him since before his birth, even when he wasn’t sure what that plan would entail. Every time he sought the Lord’s blessing, he was “checking in” with God, not trying to establish himself in his own power, but asking for God’s hand to be with him. We would do well to learn from Jacob’s example, particularly in moments of struggle when we are wrestling with whatever challenges have come our way.
Take some time today to reflect on your relationship with God and the ways you have experienced His blessing on your life, especially if you have met Him in struggle. Remember, we are not like those in the Gospel who were like sheep without a shepherd, and we are not called to wander aimlessly wondering where God is. Ask the Lord to show you how He is blessing and directing your life, and how He desires you to seek Him today.