“And Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day…”
I have always been intrigued by this passage, and I have long wondered what it could mean. According to the Holy Father, it is meant to teach us about prayer – specifically, about perseverance and humility in prayer. Jacob “wins” the battle, but only after he surrenders to the One he’s striving against:
“Jacob therefore prevailed, he triumphed – it is the adversary himself who affirms it – but his new identity, received by the same adversary, affirms and testifies to God’s triumph. When in turn, Jacob will ask his contender’s name, he will refuse to pronounce it, but he will reveal himself in an unequivocal gesture, by giving him his blessing. That blessing which the patriarch had asked at the beginning of the battle is now granted him. And it is not the blessing grasped by deception, but that given freely by God, which Jacob is able to receive because now he is alone, without protection, without cunning and deception. He gives himself over unarmed; he accepts surrendering himself and confessing the truth about himself. And so, at the end of the battle, having received the blessing, the patriarch is able finally to recognize the other, the God of the blessing: ‘I have seen God face to face’ … and now he can cross the ford, the bearer of a new name but ‘conquered’ by God and marked forever, limping from the wound he received.”
We can only receive God’s blessing when, in our prayer, we stop trying to deceive Him and admit to who we really are. Such a difficult lesson – but a necessary one, if we want our prayer to effect its purpose; that is, if we want our prayer to leave us, like Jacob, transformed and “marked forever” by our encounter with God.
You can find the Holy Father’s entire reflection on Zenit.org – definitely a worthwhile read!