Called by God to be …
Each of us is especially treasured by God, created to be unique, and given gifts to share freely. Yet, since we are born into families and cultures with characteristics and expectations that are shared by many others, we don’t always recognize our uniqueness or our inherent value. We hear and observe that we are like our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins in many ways. We join together with others of our general age and interests, finding comfort and encouragement from our peers, as well as challenges that make us examine our own values and require us to make choices that are not always easy.
When and how do we hear the Lord’s voice calling us to the unique service only we can give? Sometimes the call is obvious. Often it is a subtle urging and growing sense that a certain path is to be followed or that a particular dream is ours to bring to our world.
Samuel, for example, was still very young when he was called. His mother was already old and barren when during a visit to the temple she asked the Lord for a child. The next year when her son was born, she recognized the great gift she had received. She and her husband consecrated their son to serve the Lord at the temple when he was old enough to leave them. He worked with Eli, a priest who served at the temple, learning how to serve in that role and care for the Ark of the Covenant which was there. God was present among his people where the Ark was present.
One night, Samuel was awakened by a voice calling his name. (1 Sam 3:3b-10, 19) Naturally, he assumed Eli needed something and hurried to him. Eli woke up when Samuel came asking what was needed and sent him back to bed. The same thing happened three times. By the third time, Eli figured out what was going on. He told Samuel that if he heard the voice again, he was to respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” When the voice awakened him a fourth time, Samuel did as he had been instructed. The Lord spoke to him directly and called him to service as a prophet, one who would speak the Lord’s words to the people and lead them in the Lord’s service. This was before there were kings in Israel. The prophet’s words were intended to be taken as the Lord’s guidance for what to do as a people, in good times and in bad.
No one expected Samuel to become a prophet. He was not in any sort of training program for this role. He was still very young. No one would have thought to listen to his words as those of the Lord. Yet that is what happened when the Lord chose him for the role. He served for many years as the Lord’s prophet. Eventually, when the people were determined to have a king like the neighboring peoples did, he voiced the Lord’s warning that kings were over-rated and would not be a great idea for them. True as this turned out to be, the people were determined, so with the Lord’s help, Samuel selected and anointed Israel’s first king. When that one didn’t work out well, the Lord sent Samuel to anoint David as successor to Saul. But that’s another story.
Bottom line, the Lord called Samuel. Samuel didn’t go looking for the job!
Two of John the Baptist’s disciples were standing with him one day when Jesus walked by them. (Jn 1:35-42) John commented, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” What a strange thing to say about a person, but John had never pretended that his role was to do anything other than to call people to repentance and to prepare the community for the coming of the Anointed One, the one sent by God to restore the ancient relationship between God and humans. By John’s time, most expected someone who would lead the country to freedom from domination by foreign powers, but still, he recognized Jesus and pointed him out to his own followers.
Andrew and the other disciple followed Jesus. He noticed them and asked them, “What are you looking for?” Notice that he spoke first. When they asked where he was staying, he invited them to come and see. After a few hours of conversation, Andrew left and got his brother Simon. He told Simon they had found the Messiah and brought him to Jesus. Again, Jesus took the initiative. He greeted Simon by giving him a new name, Peter, the rock.
These three men heard the call of the Lord when they met Jesus. At least two of them had been looking for the Messiah whom John had foretold, but they had no idea he would show up the way he did in their lives, inviting them to come and have a chat. Simon had no idea his future would be completely changed when his brother urged him to come and visit with Jesus.
Many, many other people have heard the Lord’s call through the centuries. The traditions and expectations of their cultures have shaped their understanding and practices when interacting with the Lord. Sometimes the cultural patterns and behaviors have not been compatible with their new life as sisters and brothers of the Lord, children of God. This was the case in Corinth, where St. Paul admonished the new Christians to recognize and remember that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20) They are not to behave as if there were nothing special or sacred about them. God has loved them and claimed them at a high price, the sacrifice of his Son.
God calls each of us too. Some have said that God doesn’t call people directly anymore, but in my experience, that is incorrect. God does call people. Sometimes the call is subtle. Sometimes it’s more direct. Sometimes we say no. We’re always free to do that. When we do, God has been known to chuckle and say, “OK, do it your way!” If you ever hear God say this, do yourself a favor, try it his way! It’s sure to work out better in the long run.
We are called – to be members of Christ’s body, temples of the Holy Spirit, and bearers of the love of God into our world here and now. It can be a daunting challenge. But when the chips are down, none of us is alone. The Lord is always with us, inviting us to stop by and have a chat or to join him on the road for a chat. On we go… together!
Readings for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B