Thought for the week - 28 August
There is a wonderful sentence from Isaiah, where God says to Israel, to Israel’s servant, and to us, three things: God says,
“I have called you in righteous-ness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people.”
“I have called you.…” That fits in with the calling of the first few disciples. John the Baptist points to Jesus and says of him, “Behold the Lamb of God.”
Two of the Baptist’s disciples hear this, stop following John, and are called by Jesus to follow him. They hear that Jesus is the promised one, and they are called by him to follow. So off they go.
Now this idea of “being called” can be rather confusing, especially when we equate being called with doing some specific thing, such as being called to the full-time ministry. We tend to think of being called as something that happens to other people. So, we can listen to the story of the call of the disciples, but not think that it has anything to do with us. Surely we are not called in the way the disciples were.
But that is to miss the point. Yes, there is such a thing as a special call to a particular ministry, but that is not the way the word is usually used in the Bible; and that is not what is usually going on with us when God calls us.
Those two to whom Jesus said, “come and see,” were called to be disciples - as we are called to be disciples. They were also called to be members of a community. In the same way God has called us through our Baptism to be members of a community, the Church. We might not have a specific calling; but we find that our calling is to be a part of Christ’s community the Church. Remember that from the very beginning, Jesus called, not individuals, but a community, and the idea of a call makes no sense, from a Christian perspective, outside of the larger community. This is the first thing to remember.
The second thing to remember is that Jesus does not at first call us to do a particular job, or to fill a particular role. It is, instead, a call to relationship. Jesus does not say, “do this,” he says, “come and see,” or “follow me.” To respond to such a call for relationship, is very different from being called to do a specific job. To be called into relationship - to be called to follow - is to enter a mystery; it is to move out into uncharted territory. Jesus simply says,“follow me.” He calls us to himself - into a relationship, a friendship with him. That is what it means to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus. To be called by Jesus is to be held by him. Just that - to be with him. And in being with him we will be led somewhere by him
The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it like this:
If we answer the call to discipleship, where will it
lead us? What decisions and partings will it demand?
To answer the question we shall have to go to him,
for only he knows the answer. Only Jesus Christ, who
bids us follow him, knows the journey’s end. But we
do know that it will be a road of boundless mercy.
Those first disciples were not called to go somewhere in particular - they were called to go anywhere Jesus might lead. They were not called to renounce this thing or that thing, but to be able to walk away from anything and everything, for only then would they be free - only then would their lives fully belong to Jesus.
That at first sight might sound frightening. But it needn’t be. Initially Jesus called the first disciples not to some specific task but simply to be with him. They stayed close to Jesus for a while. They learned what they would and came to know him a little. Then, long before they thought they were ready, Jesus gave them jobs to do. For some, these jobs were dramatic, for others they were quiet and invisible. The call to Jesus will always, in one form or another, find expression in ministry. But the call comes first. There can be no real, abiding, and sustaining ministry without relationship with Christ, without obedience to him as he calls us to himself.
We are called to be disciples. That call came with our baptism; and that call to relationship and ministry remains with us. It may at times trouble us. It may grow stronger and weaker and stronger again, it may seem to go away, but it will always come back. For, finally, it is the call to life, to joy, and to true peace.