The attacks of September 11, 2001 on the World Trade Centers and Pentagon threw the debates over the definition of “religion” into a stir. Though religion was obviously a central factor in the events of 9/11, overly phenomenological and essentialist construals of religion were suddenly and starkly at a loss in making sense of how and why.
This text is one of the most fruitful lessons for thinking about the political theology of scripture in the whole three-year cycle. It is also one of the most humorous texts in scripture, as the powerless subvert the powerful.
Rather than falling prey to a stultifying pessimism regarding the continuous existence of evil, injustice, and oppression in our world, as Christians we should rejoice that God is in control of history, and that even evil will ultimately work to realize the glorious future of God.
Jacob’s biography is not a blueprint for activism, but perhaps a helpful model for what the church looks like in a world of empires, or at the very least a reminder that power can exist outside of prescribed structures. The story of Jacob empowers the marginalized to secure their own justice while reminding of the importance of confronting empire directly.
Does this text foster or critique violence? Perhaps the text should be read as anti-political or an alternative politics? Or does it get at the question of our most sacred idol, the family?