The Wrestler

Happy MLK Day!

Today, I’m going to read Matthew first, because I can.

NT: Matthew 12

Matthew 12

One day, on the Sabbath, Jesus is hanging out in some wheat fields and his disciples are really hungry so they’re eating the wheat, straight off the stalks, like you do. The Pharisees are like, “Jesus, look, your disciples are breaking the Sabbath rules!” Jesus is like, “Didn’t you know David broke the rule and ate the priests’ special bread when people were hungry? I’m in charge of the Sabbath anyway. Chillax.” And he reminds them again of that “I want mercy and not sacrifice” thing, which I still don’t totally get.

Mmm...shabbat. Damn it, now I want challah and I don't have any.

The Pharisees are still looking for reasons to bring Jesus down, so when he goes to a synagogue to heal a man’s messed up hand, they’re like, “Are you sure you’re allowed to heal on the Sabbath?” And he’s like, “Oh my god, are you telling me that if your sheep fell into a pit on the Sabbath, you wouldn’t pull it out? Of course you would. And a person is more important than a sheep. You’re allowed to do good things on the Sabbath.” He heals the guy and the Pharisees leave to plot Jesus’s downfall.

Jesus gets out of there and keeps healing big crowds of people but telling them not to tell others about him in order to fulfill a prophecy in Isaiah, except the prophecy excerpted here doesn’t say anything about not spreading the news about Jesus, so I’m not sure what that’s about. Jesus heals a blind, mute, possessed man, and everyone’s amazed and wonders if he’s the Son of David (I’m assuming there was a prophecy about the Son of David coming to heal people and generally make waves). The Pharisees, are like, “Nuh uh, he can only throw out demons because he’s the devil himself!” And Jesus is like, “Nuh uh, if I were the devil and I threw out demons, I’d be at war with myself, and my kingdom would collapse because that’s what happens to cities and houses and kingdoms torn apart by internal divisions.” Then there’s a confusing metaphor about robbing a strong man, and then Jesus declares that whoever isn’t with him is against him.

Jesus says that all sins and insults against himself or God will be forgiven, but insults against the Holy Spirit won’t be forgiven, for some reason. Also this makes no sense if Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit are all the same person. Then he talks again about how a tree is judged by its fruit and evil people can’t say good things, and people will be judged for every useless word they speak. That last part is an idea I’ve heard from my Mormon friends – that “vain speech” is a sin. And I’ve heard similar ideas from Buddhists, actually, who believe in “right speech” as a virtue.

The Pharisees and lawyers demand a sign of some kind from Jesus, but he says they won’t get any sign but Jonah’s: just as Jonah was inside the whale for three days, he’ll spend three days inside the earth. Then he says some confusing things about the citizens of Nineveh and the queen of the South and Solomon. Whyyy can’t he just say what he means?!

Jesus says that when an unclean spirit leaves a person, it wanders and then comes back to inhabit the same person along with seven even worse spirits, so people end up worse than they started. He says this will be how it is for his generation. No idea what this means.

While Jesus is preaching, someone tells him that his mother and his brothers are waiting to talk to him, but he’s like, “What do you mean? All these people are my family! Whoever does God’s will is my family.”


I like that Jesus is schooling the Pharisees to obey the spirit of the law more than the letter. I didn’t come upon the saying “the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath” yet, but that’s the idea Jesus is expressing, and it’s a good idea to keep in mind no matter what kind of rules you’re dealing with.


This is probably nitpicky, but Jesus has said this thing a few times about how a good tree can’t produce bad fruit and vice versa, and it bugs me. It’s way too simplistic to apply usefully to real life. The fact is, there aren’t really “good” people and “bad” people – it’s not nearly so black and white. But even the people we tend to think of as bad or not very bright or what have you often think of and say plenty of smart, good things, and generally good, smart people often do and say really dumb, bad things. Jesus is really throwing the baby out with the bathwater here.

OT: Genesis 32-33

Genesis 32

Jacob sees God’s messengers and names his campsite accordingly. He sends his own messengers to tell Esau that he’s been living with Laban and he’s rich now and he’s coming back and hopes Esau will play nice. The messengers return with the news that Esau is coming to meet him…with 400 other guys. Jacob gets scared and splits up all his people and livestock into two camps, so that if Esau attacks one, the other can escape. Jacob reminds God of his promise to protect him. He sends a bunch of livestock to Esau as a gift, but splits it up among several servants and tells them all that when they meet Esau, they should tell him it’s a gift and that Jacob is right behind them. But Jacob doesn’t go with any of them; he sleeps at the camp. If there’s a clever strategy in there somewhere, I’m not seeing it.

It was probably like this.

Jacob helps his two wives and their two servants (presumably the ones he slept with – isn’t that fornication?! I thought that was against the rules!) and his eleven sons (what about Dinah?!) to cross the river, but he stays and wrestles with a random guy for hours. When the guy realizes he can’t win, he tears a muscle in Jacob’s thigh – ouch – then asks Jacob to let him go because dawn is breaking (I’m not sure why that matters). Jacob inexplicably responds that he won’t let the man go until he blesses him. The man asks Jacob what his name is, and he answers, and the man responds, “Your name won’t be Jacob any longer, but Israel [meaning “one who struggles with God”], because you struggled with God and with men and won” (28). Jacob asks the man’s name, but he responds, “Why do you ask for my name?” (29), and then blesses Jacob. Jacob – er, Israel? But the text keeps calling him Jacob, so I guess I will too. Jacob limps away, and from then on, Israelites never eat the tendon attached to the thigh muscle, because that’s where God grabbed Jacob.

Why did God come wrestle with Jacob at all? How did God lose? Why did he ask Jacob what his name was, when he already knew it, because he’s God? And then why did he act so surprised when Jacob asked his name right after he’d asked Jacob’s name? Why does Jacob need his name changed? And where the hell is Dinah?!

Genesis 33

Jacob sees Esau approaching with his 400 men, and so he makes his family stand behind him (I guess they were reunited after the wrestling) – he goes in front, followed be the servants and their children, followed by Leah and her children, followed by Rachel and Joseph (I think he’s placing his nearest and dearest farthest away from Esau to protect them). He bows a bunch of times to try to show Esau he’s willing to serve him and all, but Esau comes running to hug and kiss him, and they cry together. Jacob introduces his enormous family to Esau, then Esau’s like, “What’s the deal with all the animals I ran into on my way here?” And Jacob says, “To ask for my master’s kindness” (8). Throughout the last couple of chapters, Jacob has kept referring to himself as Esau’s servant and to Esau as his master, deliberately reversing the hierarchy established by Isaac’s bungled blessing. Esau tells Jacob he has plenty animals of his own and Jacob can keep them, but Jacob insists on giving him the gift because he’s so happy to see Esau and be received warmly, and because God has been generous and given him plenty of animals too, so Esau accepts. Esau suggests that they all go on together, but Jacob says he needs to give his livestock and his children a rest and go more slowly, and will meet up with him in Seir. Esau offers to leave some servants with Jacob, but Jacob says he’s got plenty.

Like so.

So Esau goes back to Seir, but Jacob goes somewhere else. He builds a house for himself but only temporary shelters for his animals, so he names that place “Succoth,” which a footnote says means “temporary shelter.” I can only assume this is somehow related to Sukkot, the Jewish holiday where you build a temporary shelter outside and basically live in it for a few days.

Jacob eventually makes it to the city of Shechem, in Canaan, and camps outside the city. He buys the field where his tents are and builds an altar there.


It’s nice that Esau and Jacob have reconciled after twenty years, although I’m not totally convinced since Jacob didn’t go to Seir like he said he would.




One Response to The Wrestler

  1. Eli says:

    Folk music informs us that Dinah is in the kitchen. With someone. Strumming on the old banjo.

    Anyway, there goes Jacob, kicking ass and taking a new name! He’s really effective at gathering these blessings, like they’re power ups or something. Has someone made a video game of Genesis yet? Wait – that’s it! That’s why everyone in Genesis comes up with these elaborate, meaningless schemes that don’t work or even make sense, like the “my wife is my sister” thing! It’s either Genesis is a video game, or was written by Baldrick from Blackadder, or is a Syfy original movie, or something.

    On an even remotely serious note at all, isn’t the “mercy, not sacrifice” thing that Jesus, as God, doesn’t care about pious rituals or burnt meat/plants, but would be happy if people were just nice and forgiving to each other? What’s not to get?

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