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Genesis

32:24-32

 

Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his 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 has broken." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." And he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." Then he said, "Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, 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 name of the place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered." The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob's hip on the sinew of the thigh.

(ESV)

Losing the Lost

Friday of Pentecost 8

24 July 2015

I was the first grandchild in my mother's family. My uncles were young men and knew nothing about dealing with small children and so they sometimes teased me until I cried, or tickled me until I couldn't breathe, or wrestled with me in mock battles until I became exasperated and angry. Then I would lash out in anger as only a frustrated child can. When that happened they thought that they could turn off the battle by saying, "Enough, enough! We are done playing." They were done playing. I wanted a fight. They would appeal to my grandmother to get me to settle down. She would say, "You caused this. Now you have to live with it." They learned better when I began to have cousins.

 

It is easy for the adult to exert his or her power over a small child. The difference is like a giant in relationship to a midget. The difference in size and capacity between the child and the adult should always be resolved in favor of the child. The adult must use their capabilities to be of benefit to the little one. My uncles didn't always do that. While they didn't mean any harm, they found it exhilarating to treat me roughly without counting the cost to me. My relative weakness made them quite powerful in comparison. Our Lord Jesus Christ is quite powerful over against us. But unlike my uncles, He never uses His power over against us. He never exasperates us nor does He do things intentionally to anger us. When He battles against us, He measures His opposition to us according to our need. He battles with us for our blessedness (Gn 32:24-32), even if we don't always recognize that that is what He is doing.

 

In fact, our Lord became incarnate to turn the tables on us. He takes our place. He accepts our weakness into Himself; becoming nothing by being made man (Phil 2:7). He weeps over us because of our stubborn hard-heartedness. He accepts our blasphemous mockery at His arrest, trial, and crucifixion. He permits us to go to war against Him in an attempt to annihilate Him. He never asks quarter. He refuses to use His immense divine power to stop us. Yet how He weeps, not in frustration at our rough treatment, but because we do not seek His ministration for our wounds and wickedness. He weeps to dry our tears. He says, "Enough, enough! You will weep no more, because I have wept. You will suffer no more because I have suffered. Your sin will count no more against you, because I became Your sin." This is not His demand of a frustrated child, but His gift to those who do not deserve His kindness. His weakness grants us our strength. He gets into the mire with us to rescue us from it. His pristine holiness He risks wholly. The immaculate righteousness that is His, He trades for the filthy garment of our flesh. And He never begrudges the trade.

 

This is the Christological basis for our life together. Jesus has asked us to relax our own fussy and self-generated perfectionism, in order to serve another's weakness. Can we serve those who are in degraded condition, without fearing the loss of our apparent status or our claim to holiness? Can we work with those who are thought of as insignificant by the world, without fearing our apparent weakness? Can we risk ourselves and our prissy reputation where such a risk only makes us more Christ-like, who did not campaign to retain His status? Yes. For He has already become weak for our strength and to blaze the trail freeing us from the fear of loss. I can lose nothing that He has not already lost. Through bearing with the weak, you cannot lose the lost.

 

John Chrysostom

 

"'We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me"' (Rm 15:1-3). Paul says, 'You who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness' (Gal 6:1). Are you strong? Render a return to God for making you so. Offer yourself to set right the weakness of the sick. For we too were weak, but by grace we have become strong. We are to do this not just in this case, but also in the case of those who are weak in other respects. For instance, if anyone is hot-tempered, insolent, or has any similar failing, bear with him. How is this to happen? Listen to what comes next. For after saying 'we have an obligation to bear,' he adds, 'and not to please ourselves.'

 

"'Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up' (Rm 15:2). What Paul means is this: 'Are you strong? Let the weak have the use of your strength. Let him come to know your strength; please him. Paul does not just say please your neighbor, but for his good, and not merely for his good, lest the advanced person should say, 'See I am drawing him to his good!' He adds, 'to build him up.' So if you are rich or powerful, do not please yourself, but the poor and needy, because in this way you will immediately have true glory and enjoy doing much service. Glory from things of the world soon flits away, but the things of the Spirit are abiding, if you do it to build up.

 

Paul requires this of all people. For it is not this or that person that is to do it, but 'each of you.' It was a great thing that he had commanded them. He asked them even to relax their own fussy perfection, in order to set right the other's weakness. He again introduces Christ, in the following words: 'For even Christ pleased not Himself.' (Rm 15:3). He always does this. When he was upon the subject of offerings, he brought Christ forward and said, 'For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich' (2Co 8:9). When he was exhorting to charity, it was from Christ that he exhorted with the words 'as Christ loved the church' (Eph 5:25)....

 

Paul proceeds: 'The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me' (Ps 69:9). But what is the import of, "He pleased not Himself?" He had power not to have been reproached, power not to have suffered what He did suffer, had He been minded to look to His own things. He was not so minded. But through looking to our good He neglected His own. And why did he not say, 'He made himself nothing' (Phil 2:7). Paul wished to point out, that He not only became man, but was also ill-treated, and obtained a bad reputation with many, and as considered weak. For they said 'If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross' (Mt 27:40) and 'He saved others; he cannot save himself' (Mt 27:42).

John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 27
 
Prayer
Lord Christ, You were ill-treated, obtained a bad reputation with many, and were considered weak. Yet, Your weakness became our strength. Help us to take our strength and let it become weak, that those who are weak might likewise become strong in our weakness. Amen.

 

For Pastor Chad Smith as he is installed at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, IN, that the Lord Jesus would give him every good gift in his office of gospel proclamation

 

For all who travel, that the holy angels would guard them

 

For the gift of marriages, that husbands and wives would love and cherish each other for the upbuilding of families and the blessing of children

Art: Dürer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 

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