22The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When 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.26Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”27So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.30So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.
13Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
There weren’t many folks who wanted to date me when I was young. I was often everybody’s flat chested little sister, never dating potential. But that, of course, never stopped me from wanting to date, from having crush after crush, hoping that some day, a prince would see past my 85 pound body, past my dental retainer and impatience with make-up, and see the “real” me. And if they did, we’d fall madly in love and live happily ever after. Sigh.
But first, we’d have to get through that first date. And that non-existent first date terrified me. We’d certainly go get something to eat. And then he’d see me chewing. Food. He see that I eat. Food. He’d see me open my mouth and bite down on a burger, or take too big a forkful of salad, or try to spin the spaghetti and keep spinning and spinning as it slipped off my fork until I gave up and shoved it toward my mouth and then mid scoop half would unwind from the fork and then land on my chin, hanging there, as I nodded along with the conversation. “Why yes, I do agree that the running back is more important to a team than the quarterback, and of course I’m a dog person, and that test that I got an A on but that I won’t tell you about was definitely too difficult and that professor is just so unfair.”
I hated anything that had to do with the body, including eating, at least, eating in front of people I was trying to impress, and I would run and run and do hundreds of sit-ups in order to beat my body into submission. So that no offensive piece hung loose, no stomach bulged over my waistline, no hip curved or chin doubled.
I wasn’t anorexic or bulimic. I was just ashamed. Ashamed to be in this body that was nothing like what I saw on tv, or in the movies, or in the magazines. I was ashamed to feel so tired all the time. Ashamed that I really did like to eat. Ashamed of all this need. To drink. To eat. To sleep. To blow my nose. To have that itch you get in your ears when you need to clean them out. To have some physical human contact. Ashamed of this constant fleshiness. Of the constant demands of being human.
All the hunger. The exhaustion. The sneezing and the coughing. The way my pulse would speed up and I’d start to sweat when someone criticized me or laughed at me or stood there, quiet, but obviously, surely, judging my hairstyle and my nubby fingers and how I don’t have enough space between my thighs. There he is, across from me, hating my three inch scar along my arm that I got in the fourth grade from falling into the window well, and the spots down my legs from picking at the mosquito bites I got as a kid, and there he is, questioning my choice of eyeliner, and my brand of jeans.
Ah. My prince charming. But first, that first date.
So my first date with my now husband, I didn’t order anything. We met for coffee. And he ordered. And I was broke, and I didn’t want him to know I was broke, and I didn’t want him to pay, and most of all, I didn’t want him to see my neck muscles move as the nonfat no whip mocha slid down my throat, or hear that slurping sound you make when the coffee is a little too hot. So I ordered nothing. And sat. And smiled. And tried to look interested. But not human. Definitely not human.
And here we are, in a church, thinking about hips and hunger and how Jesus is reeling about just hearing that his cousin’s head has been perched on a platter. Our passages today are so very human. So very fleshy. Wrestling and hunger and deserts and crowds of sweaty, noisy, coughing people, and broken hips and dead fish.
First is Jacob who is in the middle of a frantic race to save all his stuff, because surely his brother, Esau, from whom Jacob stole his birthright, is coming, and surely, Esau is gonna be pissed. So Jacob divides all his stuff and sends it in different directions so that he’ll at least have half of it if Esau comes to fight. So in a last ditch effort to save his family - or maybe to just save himself - he sends them across the river and camps out alone. Where, somewhat strangely, he starts wrestling with some guy. And like a honey badger, Jacob keeps at this guy even after he’s been struck in the hip. This guy is so worried about stuff and flesh and food and more stuff, he won’t let go until this guy blesses him. What is Jacob expecting, I wonder? More wives? More children? More cattle and camels and goats?
Whatever it is, Jacob doesn’t get it. Instead, he simply gets a new name. He wants to know the name of God, but Jacob gets the name instead. And a limp. “Israel” - the one who strives with God - and needs a walker.
Struck in the hip, the tendons and sinews stretched, the ball pulled out of its socket, Jacob will now forever be seen first as someone who is in a body, a broken, gimpy body.
And then in our New Testament reading, we get more bodies and their incessant, messy, need. A small city of gimpy, limping, dirty, sick humans gathers in the desert, searching for the face of God, searching for some healing, and they get tired and hungry instead.
Jesus sees the crowds and has compassion for them - splagknizomai - literally, he “feels in his guts” for these people. Jesus’ compassion is so deep that he feels it right through to his liver and stomach and kidneys.
And what does he do? He snaps his fingers and makes fish and chips and tarter sauce fall from the sky?
Nope. He says, “YOU feed them.” Looking right at the disciples.
And they look at him, pretty incredulously, I’m guessing, and say, “Uh, Jesus, we’ve got nuthin.”
And they back track a little bit - “Well, ok. Almost nothing. Five measly loaves of bread and a couple of fish.” So, in comparison to all these hungry people, we have what is close enough to nothing. It might as well be nothing.
The disciples see the face of God, they’ve been living with and listening to and following Jesus around for a few years now, and they still have nothing. Nothing enough to feed five thousand.
Both of our stories today happen out in the wilderness - the wild “out there” where rebellion and wrestling with God happens. Where, as Jacob says “Peniel” is - where true seeing happens.
Psalm 78 asks, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?” In the place where there’s nothing. Where nothing grows. Where nothing stays alive for long. Where nothing thrives. Where there’s nothing but searching and fear and brokenness and barren land? Where there is nothing but emptiness and lack? Can God spread a table in the wilderness?
This miracle story, the only miracle story that is included in all four Gospels answers, “yes.” Yes. God can spread a table in the wilderness. But not without us. Not without our nothing. Not without our lack and flesh and mess and limping hips.
Jacob wrestles with God, sees the face of God, and ends up with nothing but a bum hip.
He asks for God’s name, but instead, God gives Jacob a name - Israel, which means, “One who struggles with God”
“When you see my face,” God says, “you’ll struggle, you’ll probably fight, or argue, or look at me incredulously, and then you’ll walk away broken, limping, with “nothing” to offer.” And then God says, “ok, now, feed them.”
Feed them from your lack.
Feed them out of your pain.
Feed them in the desert.
Feed them with your stories of heartache and hunger and feelings of rejection.
Feed them with the measly ration of five loaves and two fish and a bum hip.
Feed them with parsley stuck in between your teeth and with spaghetti sauce down your chin.
Feed them with your nothing.
Because we are the hands and feet of Christ.
We are the holes in his hands and his feet.
We are the broken hips and the bruised ribs and the bleeding temples of Christ.
We are his cry to God, “Abba, Father! Why have you forsaken me?”
We carry with us the stories of heartache and pain and grief that are the flesh and blood of Christ.
And we offer that Christ to each other. And it is the face of God.
And it is enough to feed five thousand lost souls wandering the desert, searching for some hope, some healing, some answers, some chance to see the face of God.
It is enough.
It is more than enough. Enough to fill baskets and baskets and fill to-go boxes to take home with them.
Our nothing, when it is a part of the Body of Christ, when it is blessed and broken - yes broken - is enough.
That’s the resurrection.
Jesus still carries his wounds, his story, his pain and his suffering with him after he is laid in the tomb and raised on the third day. The holes in his hands and his feet are still there. The wound in his side is still there. He’s not healed, but rather, made whole. Made complete.
And so are we.
We want our need and our pain and our bum hips to go away. We want to get past it. We want to ignore that we were ever hurt. Or that we ever failed. Or that we walk with a limp. We want to be able to say that we can’t do anything because we have nothing.
But we are changed. We are different. Our name has changed. We have been marked. And we can never take it back. We’ve been given a whole pile of nothing, and then told to feed them all.
But. Jesus says, don’t wish the need and the lack away. Don’t wish for your struggles to vanish. That nothing is enough. Jesus wants us to draw closer to it. Live in it. Share it. That is wholeness. When you carry the scars around with you and you are no longer ashamed. When you can say, “come, touch the holes in my hands, place your hand in my side, see, I’m a little like Christ, I’m part of the body of Christ. And I’ve got a whole lot of nothing. But Jesus broke it and now there’s so much food. And here, have some bread.” That’s wholeness. That’s what God calls us to. That is redemption and resurrection and freedom.
The hilarious thing about my relationship with Dan is that it began after he saw me crying in a coffee shop. Twice. Both on account of books that I was reading at the time. It was so embarrassing. “Hey Jenn,” he’d come up to me. And there I was, tears streaming down my face and snot dripping out my nose and my eyes all bloodshot because of the Brother’s Karamazov, and because Madeleine L’Engle said something tender and sweet in one of her kids novels.
There I was. A mess in a coffee shop. Twice. Over a couple of novels. All full of body and skin and flesh and nothing.
And he called me up and asked, “Hey, do you want to go get some dinner sometime?” And I said, “Sure.”
Thanks be to God.