Indian convert to Christianity Sadhu Sundar Singh (1889-1929), who began life as a Sikh, traveled internationally to preach the good news before he disappeared (and presumably died) while on one of his many journeys to Tibet. Everywhere he went, he encouraged those he met to discern God's call and work tirelessly to serve all God's people.
On several occasions, Sundar Singh told the story of a rich man whose son enjoyed spending time in his father's garden. The son watched as many birds came and ate the fruit. Cattle trampled the plants. The son saw, but did nothing.
|Fifth Sunday in
|Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Passersby asked, "Is it right for you to see your father's garden destroyed in this way and do nothing?"
"My father has not asked me to do so," said the son. "So that is not my work."
Upon hearing this, the father grew angry and sent his son away.
In one form or another, the son's attitude is reflected in many of us. "That's not my job ... It's not in my job description ... This was not on my agenda." Perhaps this mentality springs from the tendency to look at what we do in life as just a job rather than as a response to God and to God's people -- a vocation.
Vocation, as Pope John Paul II once put it, encompasses everything a person does in life. It is to become, at the same time, a realization of some part of the good ordained in the world by God, worked out in the world and paid for in the world by Christ himself. A vocation is not a 9-to-5 commitment or an "appointment needed" type of service. It is a full-time surrender to God's creative initiative in us.
Today, the sacred texts offer us the opportunity to consider anew God's call and our response to it.
In the first reading, Isaiah realized that God was calling him yet again to serve his people as God's prophet. Times were turbulent, with enemies on all sides threatening the well-being of Israel's people. Nevertheless, Isaiah, who was well-aware of the immensity of the task as well as his own shortcomings, had faith enough to trust in God and give himself over to the task.
Theologian Rabbi Abraham Heschel once said that Isaiah "cast a light by which the heart is led into the thinking of the Lord's mind."
In his Corinthian correspondence, Paul tells how God called him to be transformed from persecutor to preacher of the good news.
Scholars estimate that Paul traveled more than 15,000 miles during his missions, fueled all the while by grace and his desire to answer God's call. There was nowhere he would not venture for the sake of the Gospel.
Unlike the son in his father's garden, Paul regarded all of the then known world as within the purview of his "job description." His willingness to go out of his way continues to challenge the church to venture forth from its institutions for a more mobile and flexible ministry.
Peter, James and John are praiseworthy for their willingness to leave the jobs that put food on their tables. These men allowed their faith in Jesus and the words he spoke to supersede logic and experience. Their common sense told them that the fish just weren't biting, and yet, at the urging of a carpenter and itinerant preacher, they put out into the deep. Their trust and daring were rewarded to the extreme.
Perhaps for some of us, the call of the first disciples is the most challenging. Isaiah's and Paul's experiences were both quite dramatic.
Isaiah was in the Holy of Holies. There was smoke, there were seraphim and burning, purifying embers; moreover, he actually heard the Lord speak.
Paul heard the heavenly voice of One who knew his name and what he had been doing to impede the Gospel.
Even though simpler circumstances surrounded the calls of Peter, James and John, their willingness to go against their own better judgment in order to obey Jesus is no less remarkable.
The many great and small overtures of God will punctuate our lives with opportunities and challenges. We are free to respond as we wish. Sadly, we could well beg off with the excuse, "It's not my job."
Or we might recognize that the God and Father of us all has entrusted to us the care of God's least ones. Their needs are our agenda; their struggles are our opportunity to serve and to grow nearer and dearer to God.
[Patricia Sánchez holds a master's degree in literature and religion of the Bible from a joint degree program at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York.]