The link above will take you to the video of the meditation below.
Mirror, Mirror on the wall, Who is the fairest of them all? The Queen asks to the magic mirror in the timeless story of Snow White. Time after time, she sees her face in the mirror and is told that she is the fairest one of all. Then one day, She asked the same question, “ Mirror, Mirror on the wall, Who is the fairest of them all?” She is expecting to see a picture of her face with the mirror responding, “You are the fairest of them all.” But on that day the answer is different. Do you remember the mirror’s response? Well, on this day the mirror does not reflect her image, but gives her a picture of this young fair skinned, red lipped girl and says, “Snow White, O Queen, is the fairest of them all.” How does the queen respond to this unexpected turn of events? She is filed with hatred for Snow White. So much hatred that she demands that a huntsman kill Snow White.
Mirror, Mirror on the wall, Who am I if I am no longer the fairest of them all?
In today’s story from our sacred text, we meet a man who is wrestling with a similar question…When I come face to face with the image of myself, who am I? Meet Jacob. This is the Jacob we are referring to when we say that our God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Jacob is the son of Isaac and Rebecca. He is the twin of Esau. Jacob was born second clinging to his brother’s heel. Jacob is the son who Rebecca loves, but Jacob doesn’t want to be Jacob…he wants to be Esau. And rightly so because Esau is his father’s favorite. Esau is the first born and he is the Captain America of hero characters with a muscular physique, great hair, a winning smile, and talent as a hunter oozing out of every pore. Esau is the character who looks in the mirror everyday and asks the question, Mirror Mirror on the wall, who is the best of them all and the mirror shows a heroic picture of him and proclaims, “it is definitely YOU!”
Jacob is not that guy. Jacob is everything that Esau is not. He does not have great hair anywhere on his body, he does not have the hunter’s skill. He is smaller and stays closer to home tending the land. It is easy to think that when Jacob looked in the mirror and asked the question, the mirror showed him a picture of his brother and said, “O Jacob, you are so cute to even ask, but your brother, Esau is the best of them all!”
The story goes on to show us that Rebecca helped Jacob steal the blessing from Esau by tricking his father Isaac into believing that he was Esau. Isaac was nearing death and almost blind so he could not see the face of Jacob. Jacob and Rebecca knew that Isaac would be using his sense of taste, his sense of smell and his sense of touch and his sense of hearing to determine which son was standing before him. So Jacob tricked Isaac by preparing a hunter’s dish for him to eat. Jacob tricked Isaac by wearing Esau’s clothes so that he smelled like Esau. Jacob tricked Isaac by placing hairy fur on his arms, but Jacob could not trick Isaac’s sense of hearing.
We are left wondering, would these tricks be enough for Isaac to think that Jacob was Esau? Isaac wrestled with the conflicting information, but in the end, the tricks worked. Jacob receives the blessing of wealth and power that should have gone to Esau. But the blessing came at a great price. Esau threatens to kill Jacob and Jacob must run away in fear for his life.
Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who thinks Jacob is the fairest of them all?
Not me. Not Jacob. Not Esau. Not Isaac.
Before Jacob runs away, he asks his father, Isaac for a blessing just for him. Daddy, if you were able to see my face, what blessing would you give me? Surprisingly, the blessing Isaac gives Jacob is similar to the blessing God gave Abraham. This second blessing had nothing to do with wealth and power like the first blessing meant for Esau. This second blessing had to do with children and land.
Now, we come to the part in our story that is most interesting to me. It is 22 years after Jacob ran away from home because of Esau’s threat to kill him. Now, Jacob is coming to Esau hoping for a reconciliation. As Jacob’s family approaches the land in which Esau lives, Jacob is told that Esau is coming towards him with 400 men.
If you had tricked your father to steal the blessing from your twin brother, would you think the 400 men were coming in peace? If your brother had threatened to kill you 22 years ago, would you think your brother was ready for reconciliation? Probably not. So, the text says that Jacob strategically plans his approach. First, Jacob sends gifts. Second, Jacob prays. Third, Jacob prepares his people for war. Then, in the cover of night, Jacob sends his family across the river ahead of him and spends the evening alone. I like to think that his wives had a hand in this.
Here is what I imagine really happened. I think his wives knew there was something that Jacob needed to wrestle with that had nothing to do with all of the external preparations. I think they had seen him wrestle for 22 years over what it might be like to reconcile with Esau. Maybe they were sick and tired of all his planning of all his preparation of all his strategy because they knew that he was avoiding the conflict within himself. So, maybe Jacob did not send his family across the river, maybe the wives looked at his face and said, “Jacob, we are going on up ahead, but you are staying behind because you are avoiding the most important part of this reconciliation. I hear them saying, “get your act together!” maybe their words were not as nice as mine since they had spent 22 years hearing the same story over and over and over again about how he is not Esau, he is not Esau, he is not Esau.
As I wrote this sermon, I wrestled with the text. I took the path of Jacob and decided to paint a room in our home to avoid the work I needed to do. I avoided by planning activities with our children. I avoided by shifting priorities of finishing another work that someone asked me to do. Mine was only a few days of avoidance and Chad laughed at my confession of not doing the work. My beloved only listened to my complaints for a few days, but imagine what 22 years of spouses seeing their husband avoid the wrestling that needed to happen. This was the final moment. It was the 11th hour and Jacob had avoided too long. The wives most certainly said, “Don’t go a step closer to Esau until you have understood who you are.”
Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who am I if I am not the finest of them all?
So, the story goes that Jacob spent the evening wrestling with God. There is much debate in thought about was this an angel or was this really God or was this an internal wrestling that Jacob did in the presence of God. We don’t know, but what we do know is that the wrestling needed to happen and that the course of the history of the Abrahamic traditions was changed because of this night. As daylight broke over the horizon and the wrestling match came to an end, Jacob asks God for a blessing. And God returned the question with a question, “What is your name?”
This is the moment we have all been waiting for. Will he say, “I am not Esau.” Will he remain silent because he still does not know who he is? Maybe you have done some wrestling during the hours you spent at home during the quarantine. If you are like me, then maybe you have seen some ugly qualities and behaviors arise during stressful moments. One of my wrestling is that even though I now have a doctor of ministry degree, I am still Amber. The degree changed me in many ways that have made me a better person, but I am still Amber. I still have my personality that has many positives and many negatives. I still talk the same. I still have the same struggles even though I know better. I am growing and I am learning and yet I am still Amber.
Mirror, Mirror on the wall, I am Jacob, the trickster of them all.
Truth has been told. Jacob has accepted who he is. The miracle in the story is that in the moment Jacob sees his face and accepts who he is, God looks at Jacob’s face and sees the image of God. Then, Jacob looks at God’s face and sees Jacob. The text says Jacob called this place Peniel for I have seen God face-to-face.
So instead of giving a formulaic blessing that is traditionally given in these moments, God gives Jacob a new name. God says to Jacob, You will be called Israel for you have wrestled with God and won. This name change was given in the moment, but future texts still call him Jacob because the name suggests a new calling that Jacob will need a lifetime to live into. Jacob is wounded from this wrestling match and the wound will remind him daily of his experience and of his new name. This section of the text ends with, “and Jacob emerged complete.”
Here is how we know Jacob emerged complete. When Jacob finally meets Esau, he says, “to see your face is like seeing the face of God.” Once we wrestle so hard with God that we see our face in the face of God warts, freckles, squinty eyes and all, then it is easier to see God in the face of our enemy. Instead of wishing that he was Esau, Jacob recognized that all people bear the image of God.
I have heard many stories of wrestling during the past 4 months. One family emerged from a period of wrestling, sold their home, and moved to a place they wanted to live. They saw life differently and acted upon their vision. One friend lost her job and decided it was time to align herself with the priority of caring for her teenage daughter. She decided that she wanted to invest more time with her daughter which would require her to find a job closer to home so that she did not spend an extra 2 hours everyday on the road. She wrestled with anger and sadness over her job loss, but saw an opportunity to reprioritize.
I had a friend wrestle and do the hard work of healing from past and present wounds. She arrived at a place where she felt that her name no longer reflected the new person emerging, so she changed her name to say to the world, “I have wrestled and won.”
I am still wrestling with the mirror. I have times when I appreciate the gifts and qualities God gave me and there are times, I want to be Esau…someone else…anyone but me. In the wrestling with God, I am finding small ways to continue to align myself with the values I profess- the image of God I see in the mirror on my best days. I experienced a profound moment when I went to vote on when to return to school. At first, I voted with what was best for me. But before I pressed submit, I paused and asked myself, “but is that what is best for everyone?” I went back and changed my vote and pressed submit.
Like Jacob, the wrestling to see God our face in the face of God will take a lifetime. But Jacob’s new name gives us hope, for to be in the faith tradition of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob means that we will wrestle with God and win.
Richard Rohr writes,
“Wrestling with God, with life, and with ourselves is necessary…the blessing usually comes in a wounding of sorts. For most of us it is an entire life of limping along to finally see the true and real blessing in our life.”
Mirror, Mirror on the wall, I see God in myself which makes me One with All.