By Russ Ramsey
Poor Steve Bartman. On the evening of October 14, 2003, the Marlins were playing the Cubs for the NLCS title. The Cubs were up 3 games to 2 in the series, and they were up 3-0 in the eighth inning of Game 6. If the Cubs won the game, they would win the NLCS (which they had not done since 1945) and advance to the World Series (which they had not won since 1908).
The Marlins second baseman, Luis Castillo, fouled deep to left field. If the Cubs outfielder, Moises Alou, caught the ball, they would only be four outs away from history. But as the ball came down, Steve Bartman, a Cubs fan sitting in the outfield seats, reached for the ball, deflecting it away from Alou’s glove. The Marlins went on to score eight runs that inning, and then knocked the Cubs out by winning Game 7 the next day.
Guess who people blamed for the Cubs’ failure to make it to the World Series. Need a hint? Steve Bartman. Of course, Steve Bartman had little to do with the number of runs and outs each team scored over the span of those seven games, but history remembers him for his “transgression.”
Our mistake, failures, and wrong-doings often have a lingering effect. In some cases, unfortunately, we come to be known by them. Jacob was a man who played a lot of angles in his life. He prospered through trickery. He made a lot of enemies.
In today’s passage, Jacob is reaping the whirlwind of his scheming with Laban. He had manipulated his uncle, whose patience had run out. Fearing for his life, Jacob bolted. But as he fled from Laban, he encountered Esau, whom he had also angered earlier through his deceit.
The pressure of having to flee from Laban only to encounter Esau broke something in Jacob. He became a desperate man. He came to the end of himself. It is in this posture that Jacob spent the night wrestling with the angel on the banks of the Jabbok River. In more ways than one, he was fighting for his life.
It is a mercy when God takes us to the end of ourselves—when He exhausts our manipulation, our greed, our narcissism, and the angles we can play. When our best schemes fail and the only play we have left to make is a plea for mercy, God is not punishing us. He is loving us. “The LORD disciplines the one He loves, just as a father, the son he delights in” (Proverbs 3:12).
Steve Bartman didn’t deserve the wrath of Cubs fans. Jacob, on the other hand, deserved almost every bit of the distrust and anger Laban and Esau felt for him. But God used the lingering effects of Jacob’s scheming to bring him to the end of himself, in order to show Jacob his deep need for God’s help. May we learn to regard the disciplining hand of God as a merciful demonstration of His love, as He works to untie us from the tangles of our own scheming.
Written by Russ Ramsey