The final seconds are ticking away on the scoreboard, the home team is down and they have no way to stop the clock. Suddenly, a player drops to the ground writhing in pain, clutching a knee, or an ankle, or a shoulder. The location of the "injury" is irrelevant, as long as the clock stops with enough time for the team to huddle for one more play. Win or lose, sports pundits will spend the next week debating the quality of the player’s injury/acting performance.
When I was growing up in Indiana, I must admit to using this particular page from the coaching playbook. On occasion, something would upset my younger brother and he would express his frustration by packing up his favorite action figure, grabbing his Huffy bike, and peddling away toward an unknown destination. As the older brother, my role was to give chase. However, I really didn’t like to break a sweat on those humid summer days in Indiana. So, I would lay my bike down on the sidewalk and fake a pulled hamstring. Compassion would quickly replace my brother’s anger, and he would return to check on my condition. Then, I had him! It was just a matter of grabbing his handlebars and walking him back home.
After deceiving his brother, Jacob, the son of Isaac, ran away from home as well. However, Jacob was not just running away because of a set of circumstances he had created, he was running from the wrath of his brother, Esau. Jacob had committed an offense far worse than eating the last piece of chocolate pie or accidentally crushing an original Lego masterpiece. He had stolen his brother's blessing and maneuvered himself into a position to inherit his brother's birthright and future. Esau would not be faking an injury for his prodigal brother anytime soon.
On his way out of town, Jacob found a comfortable stone to use as a makeshift pillow and settled in for the evening. As night fell, "he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” (Genesis 28:11-12)
There are a number of points that I find a bit curious in this story.
Why did God stop Jacob on his way out of town? He had done nothing to deserve this honor.
Did Jacob have a dream or a vision, and is there a difference between the two?
How well does a stone function as a pillow?
And, my favorite question; why do angels need a ladder?
Every angel that I have seen carefully perched upon a Christmas tree watching over brightly wrapped presents had…wings. As a pilot, if I had a choice between climbing a ladder or doing barrel rolls in and out of heaven, I would be prepping for takeoff. So, why are these particular angels taking the stairs? There has to be a better reason than the extra cardio.
We are not the only ones to ask such questions. Rabbis, reflecting on the angels traveling up and down Jacob's stairway to heaven, have suggested that the ladder teaches us that our relationship with God is a step-by-step journey, in both directions.
But wouldn’t it be easier to install an elevator or an escalator? Then, we can skip the in-between steps. We can get directly to the point, and efficiently receive answers to our questions and requests. But efficiency is rarely a word used to positively describe relationships. There are no shortcuts.
Unlike an elevator, escalator or even an airplane, ladders or stairs are able to work in both directions at the same time. Ladders are more about connection than transportation. This ladder or “Stairway to Heaven” was built to connect the heights of Heaven directly to the muck of our brokenness and uncertainty. This ladder is firmly, and permanently, planted in our world. This ladder reminds us that God is still involved and working in our world. This ladder is waiting for us to stop running away from God and begin the courageous climb toward a life with God.