The News of the World phone tapping scandal is filled with irony and arrogance. It is ironic to see the world’s largest media baron being held to account for the behavior of his news outlets just as those very news outlets held others to account for their behavior. If you live by the sword, you may very well die by that self same sword.
For some the arrogance was evident in Rupert Murdoch’s definite statement that he wasn’t responsible for what had occurred, that he had been let down by the behavior of others. As all of us who hold positions of responsibility know, we never give that responsibility away; we only delegate it, and are therefore always responsible for what those we delegate the power to, do. It’s a fact of life.
In Genesis 32:3-31 we find ourselves in the company of a bloke few would want to have in the family. Jacob has fought to be first from the womb, tricked his brother, lied to his father, and ran away like a coward to avoid Esau’s wrath. On the night mentioned in the passage, he is waiting it out alone because he has sent all of his loved ones on with bribes for Esau in the hopes that he will be forgiven for all his mischief. And, it is this night that he encounters a stranger that most say was God, or at least some representative of God. Is it any wonder that Jacob held on for dear life asking for a blessing? He had been doing that since before birth.
Jacob was arrogant, it was all about him. He did everything to get his way, to come out on top, to have it all; yet he was also a coward, a chicken, someone who hid behind his wife’s skirt, or in this case his wives and children to avoid being taken to task by his brother. He feared his brother because he believed his brother wanted revenge. He lived in fear of being found out. Found out for what he knew he was – a fraud, a fake, a bully and a coward.
One of the major reasons people suffer stress and depression is the disconnect with the self we present to the world and the self we believe we are. Like Jacob we present an image which allows us to live and do the things we want to do on the surface. Underneath we often feel that we are far less than that self, that the success we achieve, happiness we have, the love we feel is undeserved and is always under threat. We are, like Jacob, waiting for Esau to come and unmask us for all to see.
Both these selfs’ are false. Neither are who we really are. Our true self, as Jacob was to find out, is very different and only discovered in a close encounter with ourselves, when we wrestle with God.
Jacob finds himself in a battle with his conscience – the Dark Night of the Soul – describe here as a lonely night under the stars on the edge of the river. He is waiting for disaster in the form of all his chickens coming home to roost and his forced to encounter the truth about himself.
This encounter is described as a wrestling match and Jacob hangs in there, not wanting to let go of who he sees himself to be, but confronted by the truth wants the truth about himself to be evident to all, he wants to be real.
Somewhere in that night Jacob’s arrogance is replaced by a newfound humility, an awareness that there is much more to be gained by letting down the self built barriers and connivances and to just be Jacob. Jacob with a limp – not perfect, not in control, not expected to win all the time. Jacob who could go back to his family, even his brother, transparent and incomplete – a man with a limp.
I have heard a lot lately on what we must do for the younger generation – our students and our children – how we are to protect, teach, direct, control – somehow be responsible for how they turn out. At a recent seminar the MC he informed us that we must protect our children.
The truth is much simpler – we must limp and live comfortably in front of them as a limping, honest human being. It is our lives which they listen to, not our words, and they want to see ordinary people who respect themselves and others, and who are prepared to face the ordinariness within themselves.
It is in our honesty as limping, less than perfect, humble people that our students and children learn and become comfortable with themselves, able to live with their deficiencies without the fear of being found out. They discover it is ok to just be ok, that it is alright to make mistakes, to not be perfect, to settle for what makes them content not what makes them money, because they see all that and more in us.
This is the simply message of Jacob who is given a new name, Israel which means “”for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Your fears have not been realized, you have been found out but not as you expected. The true limping, broken, humbled self has been found and validated, accepted and given permission to step out into the world with out fear. It is ok to be you and others will accept you just as you are.
We do not have to pretend anymore. Israel was a changed man, not because he was powerful and unbent, but because he was weak and broken. Because he was without pretense – he was because he was just as he was.
If life is a journey and not a destination, one of the way stations on the journey is the dark night at the river where we wrestle with the truth about ourselves and wake up limping but truly at peace with ourselves for the very first time.
Imagine the vision of Israel rejoining his family to discover that Esau did not want to kill him, and for them to recognize that the arrogant self centred Jacob had been transformed into a new man –Israel.
As we travel this journey may we too experience the joy of being broken, the newness of a life without pretense and arrogance, the humble experience of encountering God in the ordinary fears of everyday life. AMEN