We might assume that, ‘in a perfect world,’ God’s call only leads to good things, like harmony, peace and goodwill. But Scripture and Christian history suggest otherwise! In our world, at least initially, God’s call sometimes leads to other things like confusion or anxiety, through which the Spirit’s true peace may emerge. God’s call can disrupt life as we know it now, allowing patterns of grace to replace what is familiar. And God’s call can also leave us feeling challenged rather than affirmed. Here is the point: in situations like these, God’s purpose is not to bring confusion or disruption, even if it brings challenge. God’s purpose is to further our growth and fulfillment. This is why we pay attention to how the community hears a call just as much as we attend to how individuals hear it. Since hearing a call can be challenging, we seek to do this kind of ‘Spirit-listening’ in community ~ and for the sake of community.
Early in Luke’s Gospel Jesus speaks in his hometown synagogue. As he does, he reveals something profound about his own call, which points to the way that God is calling his Nazareth community. At first, Jesus’ former neighbors praise him, expressing marvel at his words and deeds. But when they discern how his prophetic ministry has expansive implications, rather than being narrowly focused on benefits for them, everything changes. After praising him, they lead him to the brow of a hill so they can kill him! Just as the leaders of Jerusalem wanted to do to God’s prophet, Jeremiah, some 500 years earlier.
Paradox abounds in this story at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. His teaching and works of healing reveal that he is filled with the power of God’s Spirit. God’s Spirit can do anything. Except that God gives us the curious freedom to refuse the Spirit’s power. Sometimes we refuse this power overtly, especially when we feel like God is asking us to do something difficult or uncomfortable. And sometimes we refuse this power through subtle denial, by closing our hearts and minds to new possibilities toward which God is leading us. The folks in Nazareth want their hometown wonderworker to stay ‘local,’ and bring focused blessings upon them. They refuse to see how Jesus’ vocation exceeds the limited parameters they allow for him, as well as for themselves.
We may not share Jeremiah’s particular vocation to be a prophet. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t received a vocation, a calling. For we are all called! We are called to participate together in God’s Word, as the Spirit-led community. We are called to flourish together within our Lord’s Body. And, we are called to share his holy life with those who have not yet experienced it. These things can be hard to do. But God always give us the grace and strength to respond to the Spirit’s call. For, as a community, we have been called!
This post is based on my homily for Sunday, February 3, 2019, which can be accessed by clicking here. Other homilies of mine may be accessed by clicking here. The Revised Common Lectionary, which specifies the readings for Sundays and other Holy Days, can be accessed by clicking here.
Regarding Jeremiah’s call and your comment that we are all called. I appreciate that. Making ordination a “special call” seems to weaken the call to all to be prophetic. Or rather: the sort-of matter-of-fact N.T. examples of it being a “fact” that we are to be prophetic. Here’s what a Jewish writer says about Eldad and Medad (Numbers 11) who were not part of the “ordination structure”: I would like to offer another suggestion, which is diametrically opposed to the interpretation of Rashbam. I think that Eldad and Medad refused to go out. They did this in conscious defiance of Moses who chose them to be among his seventy “yes-men.”
The arrangement that God and Moses had made was designed to bolster Moses’ singular authority. All spirit had to be transmitted to others via Moses (see esp. v. 25 asher alav), and the purpose of this transmission was strictly to authorize subordinates who would serve him (see esp. v. 17b: ונשאו אתך במשא העם, ולא-תשא אתה לבדך – They shall share the burden of the people with you, and you shall not bear it alone ). There was no place in this arrangement for individual spiritual voices that might speak independently of the figure of Moses and bring a diversity of opinions into the public domain. Eldad and Medad challenged not only the centralized and exclusive authority of Moses, but also, at least implicitly, the attempt to wield political control over the divine spirit.
Yes ~ very thoughtful. Reminds me of Saul/Paul appearing ‘out of nowhere,’ and outside the designated structure of the twelve (who became eleven).