Saturday, August 02, 2014

Jacob and the angel: Wrestling to reconcile body and spirit

“Jacob Wrestling with the Angel” by Leon Bonnat (1876) via Wikimedia Commons

When Jacob wrestled with the angel in the Bible, they embodied the struggle between sexuality and spirituality. Artists have created many homoerotic images of the scene over the centuries. The story of Jacob wrestling (Genesis 32:24-31) is the Sunday lectionary reading for tomorrow (Aug 3).

Many have interpreted the story as a struggle between material and spiritual needs, but it is especially powerful for queer people who are trying to reconcile their sexuality and their faith. Jacob refused to give up the fight until he forced a blessing out of God. Like Jacob, LGBT people can also win God’s blessing by continuing to wrestle with our faith, regardless of those who condemn as sinners.

Jacob, ancestor and namesake of the Israelites, is alone one night when a mysterious stranger comes to him. Scripture refers to the stranger as a man, God, and an angel (Hosea 12:4). He wrestles with Jacob until dawn. Then the angel wants to leave, but Jacob insists, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”

The angel gives him a new name and identity as Israel, which can be translated as “one who has prevailed with God.” Jacob asks to know the angel’s name, but he just gives a blessing and leaves. Alone again, Jacob marvels, “I have seen God face to face and lived.”

Jacob is honored in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. For Christians, some see the pre-incarnate Christ himself as the mysterious stranger who wrestled with Jacob.

The story raises intriguing questions. What was the nature of the “wrestling” that went on all night long? Whether or not there was an erotic interaction, the friendly conclusion affirms that God wants to relate to human beings as equals. God rewards those who challenge God.

“Jacob and the Angel” by Hendrik Andersen, lover of Henry James. For the uncropped version (warning: full frontal nudity), visit Wikimedia Commons.
Related links:

Wrestling with God” at the Queering the Church Blog is a queer reflection on Jacob and the angel.

Click here for a gallery of art showing “Jacob Wrestling with the Angel” at Wikimedia Commons.

This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, humanitarians, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

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