Jacob finds himself between a rock and a soft place in the reading we heard at Mass today. (Genesis 28: 10-22)
It’s one of my favorite passages in Genesis: Jacob, on the lam…having just conspired with his mother to cheat his twin brother, Esau, out of the inheritance…comes to a place called Haran and decides it’s a great place to get stoned.
Literally, in this case (‘cause you know sometimes words have two meanings’): ‘Taking one of the stones…he put it under his head and lay down to sleep at that spot.’
Sounds like a rather uncomfortable choice to me. But while he’s resting on that rock, Jacob is blessed with a vision in the night. He has a dream featuring a well-traveled stairway to heaven. And the Lord makes an appearance, too—not at the top of the stairway, where we might expect to find the Holy One—but standing right beside him. ‘Know that I am with you; I will protect you wherever you go,’ the Lord whispers in Jacob’s ear.
Jacob’s observation upon awakening provides us with a fundamental spiritual truth, it seems to me.
‘Truly, the Lord is in this spot, although I did not know it!’
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that the Lectionary pairs this story with the Gospel reading from Matthew in which Jesus sets out to restore the official’s daughter to life, and—while on his way—cures the woman who’d been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years.
I imagine that both the official and the cured woman could make the same confession that Jacob does: Even amidst the grief of death, even after suffering debilitating pain for a dozen years, it is possible—and perhaps necessary—for us to discover that the Lord is in this spot.
Yes, even in this spot: in a child who can’t seem to break the bonds of his heroin addiction; in a marriage that fails after 30 years; in a career that crumbles as collateral damage following a merger; in a cancer that has metastasized and cannot be cured.
As the stones pile up in our lives, Jesus invites us to find our soft spot in him. And more: Jesus asks us to be the soft spot for others. Perhaps not for every hurting person we encounter. But at least for some.
How do we dare to imagine that kind of grace at work in our lives? We are, after all, too weak…too sinful…too self-centered.
We can indeed dare it, simply because—as Jacob (and later, Ezekiel) discovered—the Lord can work wonders with stones:
‘I will give them a new heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the stony heart from their bodies, and replace it with a natural heart.’ (Ezekiel 11:19)