Friday, July 10, 2009

"I am with you"

Today's first reading includes two of the Bible's most frequently repeated messages: "Do not be afraid" and "I am with you." (Not coincidentally, these phrases also appear in all of our Pauline chapels.) You wouldn't think that Jacob, who had successfully wrestled with an angel, and whose new name, Israel, means "the man who fought with God," would be afraid to leave his rough life as a sheep herder and go to Egypt where his own son was second only to Pharoah. What exactly was he afraid of? I wonder if he was afraid "to go to Egypt" because it mean leaving the Promised Land. Egypt was a land of many (and very strange) gods: how would Jacob's family and descendants remain faithful to the God of their fathers, who--so it seemed--was back in Canaan?
And so God reveals something new to Jacob in that second amazing dream (remember the first dream with the ladder?): "I will go with you." God is not bound to any piece of land, not even to the high mountain in the heights of Moriah where Abraham had been put to the test and realized "on the mountain, the Lord will see." God had committed himself to this people, wherever they went, whatever circumstances they found themselves in. "I will go with you."

Interesting note: The Gospel of Matthew begins with God saying pretty much the same thing to Joseph (significantly enough, in a dream): "Do not be afraid..." and the child Jesus will be "Emmanuel, a name which means 'God is with us'." And the ending of the Gospel? The Easter message, "Do not be afraid" and the "Great Commission": "Go into the whole world...I am with you always."

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