26 June 2016
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
It’s a common story in Scripture: Someone is called by God and they leave everything to follow that call. We hear it in the story of Elisha. He’s out there just plowing his fields; but then Elijah comes by and—just like that!—life is changed for him. Elisha slaughters his oxen and turns his equipment into a barbecue. It’s a pretty radical destruction of his old life to follow the will of God.
We see the same thing happen with the Apostles. Jesus said to them: “Follow me.” And they did. Peter, James and John left their fishing boat on the shore and walked away with Jesus. They even left their nets just sitting there in the boat; everything they needed they left behind. And it happened the same way with Andrew, Philip, and the rest of them. Matthew was sitting at his table collecting taxes; Jesus walked by and said, “Follow me,” so Matthew did. He left everything and made a radical change in his life.
And that’s one way people are called to follow the Lord: by a radical change in life. The other way is a call to simply remain with the Lord; to stay on the “straight and narrow” path they’ve already been on. We see this with our Blessed Mother.
She was born free from original sin and was always close to the Lord. And yet she, too, had that call from God to a still deeper commitment. She didn’t have to radically change her life; she just had to stay firm on that path God had put her on. And I imagine we all know people who’ve been called in this way.
They’ve just always been a good person; they seem to have had the Spirit of God guiding them from an early age. Maybe it’s a friend of ours, or a family member, or somebody who inspires. Certainly, there are many Saints who fall into this category; Saints like: Therese of the Little Flower, Francis de Sales, and our patroness, Saint Bernadette.
And so, some people are called to follow the Lord through a radical change in life. While others are called just to stay on the path they’re already on. But, either way, that call from God isn’t necessarily because we’re sinners. After all, Elisha wasn’t an especially great sinner. Neither was Peter, or James or John. Now, Matthew was a bit of a sinner. Mary Magdalene was. Saint Paul certainly was a big-time sinner. But Saint John wasn’t.
The call to follow the Lord—either by a radical change in life, or by remaining steady in what we’re doing—isn’t about our sinfulness. The call to follow the Lord isn’t about our sinfulness. It’s about being an instrument of God in whatever way God needs us to be his instruments.
When I was considering my own vocational call, God had already inspired me to be a church musician. It was a pretty natural idea; I’ve been a musician my whole life. And it would’ve been fine if I’d just stayed on that path. It’s a good and worthy vocation to bring people to God through music and the arts. And yet, God put it into my head to think about priesthood, which was definitely a more radical change in direction for me.
That call wasn’t about me trying to follow a holier or better path in life. The call was about what God needed. With Elisha and St Peter, there wasn’t anything wrong with being a farmer, or a fisherman. In fact, they contributed a lot to the community; they were a presence of God to their neighbors. And yet God said to them: I need some help—would you come and help me?
And that’s just as important a calling as when God says: I need you to keep doing what you’re doing—would you help me by doing that? Regardless of how we might feel God calling us, the purpose of that call is always the same; it’s to be an instrument of our God.
Now, we heard about those people who were jumping at the chance to follow Jesus. We heard that “as they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ . . . And another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.’” Well, maybe Jesus wasn’t calling them to a radical change in life. Maybe he needed them to just keep being who they were.
Did they think that a radical change in life was more important, or better, or worthier than just “keeping on the straight and narrow?” I don’t know. But if they did, they were wrong. What’s important is not how we follow God, but that we follow God. God doesn’t love the pope more than people who just try to love God and their neighbor. He loves them equally.
When we get together for a funeral, we put the white pall over the casket. And it’s a reminder of our baptismal garment, of course. But it’s also a reminder that, in God’s eyes, we all have an equal claim on his love—whether we’re ordained or laity, male or female, a leader or a follower. Whether it’s a pine box, or a beautifully carved walnut casket, the pall is a reminder that—in the end—all that matters to God is that we were faithful to him and his ways.
It’s a common story in Scripture: Someone is called by God and they leave everything to follow that call. It’s just as common a story that someone is called by God to stay put, and to continue doing what they’re already doing. Either way the call is exactly the same: to be an instrument of God and an agent of love.
And so, whoever we are and whatever we do, let’s remember to give thanks to God for all the many vocations in life he gives us: mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, family, friends, doctors and nurses, teachers and scientists, artists and musicians, politicians and public servants, the bagger at the grocery store, the guy who helps out in the lumber department, the nameless person across the street, the gentle beggar, the priest, the deacon, the bishop, the loud people, the quiet people, and so on, and so on, and so on.
Whatever the calling, it’s exactly the same: to be an instrument of God and an agent of love. And, in the end, all that matters to God is that we were faithful to him, and that we paid attention to him say, “Follow me.”