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Year A, Ordinary 18, 2017 – Wrassling

August 2, 2017 / Molly Douthett / Ordinary Time

 Greetings!!  We’re back for another episode of intelligences, insights, and illustrations! This week, the theme seems to be a bit – sweaty. In Genesis, Jacob is preparing himself to meet his brother Esau for the first time in about twenty years and finds himself wrestling with his conscience – or is it God? The text is not entirely clear. In Romans, Paul grapples with deep grief because his people have rejected the claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the long awaited Messiah. In Matthew, Jesus wants to grieve the violent death of his cousin, John, but the crowds who follow him have a different idea. His disciples must struggle with Jesus’ command to feed the crowd rather than send them away. There is much wrangling in this week’s passages, and you could work up a good sweat with any one of them. So, let’s get some water, pump up some tunes, check our heart rate, and get into it!  Ready?

 (By the way, if you search on “wrassling” this comes up. Have fun!)

(Also, there’s some audio distortion in the final mix. Not sure where it came from. Sorry about it.)


This week’s texts are:  

Genesis 32:22-31 [02:01]  

As I said, Jacob is wrestling with the news he is about to see his twin brother again. You will remember, they did not part on the best of terms; in fact, Esau wanted to kill him. Has twenty years changed his mind or has he simply bided his time? Jacob hopes for the former but prepares for the latter and while he contemplates this fate, a stranger approaches and engages him in a wrestling match that lasts all night. If you are familiar with Hebrew, you will hear a play on words – Jacob, wrestle, and Jabbok all share the same root consonants and sound very much alike. You could play with other words as you tell this story and even turn this into a poem or song. We have one of each as illustrations! For a WORD smart special effect, find a source that gives the meaning of names and share with your congregation what their names mean. The wrasslin’ match on the riverbank has inspired not only poetry and song, but art. We have links to two websites that have gathered paintings and sculptures about this story in EYE smart. For a special effect, break out the maps!! In BODY smart, we consider how strenuous an all night wrestling match must have been. It is a testament to both Jacob’s strength and tenacity that he holds on until day break even after he has been seriously injured. How bad was it? Click the links below about hip dislocations, and if you have the stomach for it, use them as a special effect! As the match came to an end at daybreak, the stranger blessed Jacob by giving him a new name, Israel. For SELF smart, consider the new name God has given us as baptized members of the Body of Christ.

  • Smarts – Word [03:16], Eye [05:27], Body [07:13], Self [09:17]
  • Genesis 32 worksheet   
  • Links in Genesis   


Romans 9:1-5 [10:39]

Paul is not rolling in the dust with an unknown opponent in this passage, but his struggle is no less intense. He has come to the halfway point in this letter to the Romans and scholars have wondered why he didn’t just stop at the end of chapter eight with the ringing confidence he expresses. Instead, he abruptly shifts gears and begins to mourn the apparent rejection of Jesus by his own people. He wrestles with his place in both worlds and offers to rescind his own salvation on their behalf. It is truly a heart breaking passage. His grief is genuine, and his desire for his people to receive Jesus as Messiah is consuming. Maybe it is this depth of feeling that has led scholars and preachers through history to misunderstand the later part of Romans as a rejection of the Jews. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding has lead to a warped view of God’s chosen people. This passage does not reject the people who have rejected the Messiah. In fact, Paul’s heart expands for them in his grief, and he longs for them to see what he sees and change their minds. He understands this is out of his control and so leaves his people in God’s hands. In MATH smart, we illustrate Paul’s desire for his people with a quote from J. Christiaan Beker’s Paul the Apostle, which also leads to Roy Scheider in Jaws, Heather Locklear in an old shampoo commercial, exponential equations, baking a cake, and having more than one child. Go take a look, it really does make sense! In MUSIC smart, go listen to (or better yet, read) the lyrics for Prince’s song I Would Die 4 U. We have an interesting musical special effect, too! For NATURE smart, consider plants that share a root system to illustrate the intertwined relationship of Jews and Christians. And finally, in SELF smart, we have illustrations from Star Trek the original series, a “heroic sacrifice” trope, and a Vietnam era medic who was honored for his service in battle.

  • Smarts – Math [12:07], Music [15:11], Nature [16:47],  Self [17:47]
  • Romans 9 worksheet
  • Links in Romans   


Matthew 14:13-21 [19:33] 

Hearts are broken in this passage, too. Jesus has just heard the news that his cousin John has been executed by Herod. He has been facing a lot of opposition and resistance to his ministry, and this may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. He goes out to a lonely place perhaps hoping to weep and rest. He ends up spending his alone time healing and bestowing compassion on a very large crowd who followed him. The disciples seem to go with it until it is time for food. They wish for Jesus to send the crowd away, but he tells them to feed the crowd themselves. I really wish I could be present at the time Jesus says things like this; I would love to see the expressions on their faces and maybe even learn some first century expressions of disbelief and frustration that I am certain must have made it into this conversation, even if Matthew edited it out for sensitive ears later. Yet, they obey him, and a miracle happens! In MATH smart, we consider the scope of this miracle with the numbers recorded by Matthew. 5000+ people is a very large crowd, even in our modern world, so how much food would it take to feed all of them? As a starting point, look up the bread illustration for MATH smart we used last week! In BODY smart, we consider the food itself, and some how what happened – while miraculous – may also have been offensive to those who care about who touches their food. It isn’t just questions of gluten free or responsibly sourced sea food, but have people washed their hands before passing bread around? We have another illustration for MUSIC smart, this time from Johnny Cash. Go listen to “No Earthly Good” and pay special attention to verse three! Finally, in PEOPLE smart, consider the role the disciples played in this story – they were not just bystanders! So we have illustrations and a special effect that encourages you and your congregation to be actively involved in serving others, even if you aren’t sure you have enough resources or energy. God provides, always!

  • Smarts – Math [21:14, Body [23:03], Music [24:40], People [25:24]
  • Matthew 14 worksheet
  • Links in Matthew   


Image credit: Copyright: ostill / 123RF Stock Photo. Used by permission.



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