By Andrea Lingle
So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." Then the man said, "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, 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.
There is something deep in the naming of a child. My husband and I have named five children, and not once did we do so lightly. We scoured baby-name books, made sure the middle names fit phonetically with the first names, screened favorite names for unfortunate meanings, and, even after all that, my hand shook as I wrote each new name down on the blue birth certificate form. After all, our names shape us.
Surely Jacob's name shaped him: supplanter, usurper, grasper-of-heels. Not-quite-first. A receiver of second-hand blessings.
Through the trial of his wrestling—his Lent—he overcame his very name. He struggled to the end of his name, and required a new one, a name meaning both God strives and one who strives with God. To be one with whom God must contend.
But Jacob-Israel didn't get distracted by his beautiful new identity, he caught one last heel."Tell me your name."
God, tell me your name. Who are you? Jacob, Moses, and Pilate all asked this question. It is a question that follows the people of God through days and seasons and centuries. How often do we work so hard to name God only to find that the name doesn't fit? We pound and grind our theologies into what we hope is a God-shape, only to find that the answer we get is a question.
We long to find the right word. The truth. The Truth. But we are left with empty gilt-boxes and torn curtains. What once gave shape to the striven-with is revealed to be empty.
"Why do you ask my name?"
Jesus came that we might encounter God-Incarnate—God, the I Am, the motion-over-the-chaos—but in this season of Lent we are tempted. We are tempted to insist that the names we know, the names we love, contain the shape of God. We strap the Christ to the cross, sure of him—sure we know his name.
Jacob was the descendent of Abraham, a man who's name was also changed by God. When Jacob put his hand to the shoulder of that-with-which-he-wrestled, he grasped a God he had inherited from his father and his father's father. In that dark, turbulent night, his tradition turned into a question.
And in his questioning he found blessing.