For Sunday, July 31, 2011: Year A

THE READING    Genesis 32:22-31

In recent readings, Abraham’s grandson Jacob usurped his brother’s birthright, fled for his life as a consequence, and was assured by God in an extraordinary dream that he would be the father of an enormous nation. Taking refuge with his uncle Laban, he was tricked into marrying both of Laban’s daughters. Before today’s reading opens, Jacob has become rich in chattel and children, but he has also finally had enough: it is time to go home and to face the brother he fleeced. On the way, Jacob learns that Esau his brother is coming to meet him with a force of 400 men. Terrified, Jacob sends his family and flocks away, either for their safety or for his. What happens that night, he could not have expected—but he comes away with a name that resonates in history.


THE EPISTLE    Romans 9:1-5

Jacob, renamed Israel, received far-reaching promises direct from God about his descendants. In our readings from the book of Romans so far, Paul is insistent that God keeps God’s promises. To the church at Rome—a mixed community of Jews and non-Jews—this posed a problem: has God stopped loving the Jews who choose not to accept the gospel? In today’s reading, a deeply troubled Paul begins to answer that question.



It’s incredibly easy to believe that God’s promises are only for those who are already righteous. The Bible, however, suggests otherwise: it’s full of characters whose character is suspect–whom God nevertheless loves deeply. Jacob is yet another case in the Old Testament: in previous readings we’ve seen him conniving against his brother and deceiving his father, and even when he’s fleeing on account of these bad deeds, God keeps loving Jacob and keeps making extravagantly generous promises to him.

Paul picks up the theme. The promises that God made to the man renamed Israel are the promises that God means to keep with Israel the people–not because Israel is righteous, but because that’s who God is–if only Israel will believe.

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