Brief Synopsis of the Readings: We begin with Samuel in “the sanctuary of the Lord” when he heard someone calling him. Thinking he was called by Eli he went to him. Eli told Samuel the voice wasn’t his. It happened again with the same result. On the third try Eli told Samuel that when this happens again he should reply: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Samuel did as he was told and “the Lord was with him and let no word of his fall to the ground.” In John’s Gospel we begin with John the Baptist and two of his disciples. When John saw Jesus pass he told his disciples: “Look, there is the lamb of God.” They then followed Jesus. On seeing this Jesus asked him what they wanted. They answered: “Rabbi, where do you live?” Jesus invited them to come and see. One of the two, Andrew, told his brother Simon that he had found the Messiah. When Jesus met Simon he told him that he will be called Cephas, meaning Rock.”
What’s your calling? I’m guessing that most of us have spent time thinking about this. We’re born with certain things we’re good with and certain things we’re not. When I was in high school I loved history but science never made sense to me (will all this stuff still happen even if I don’t understand it?), and I married a woman who loved science but found history tedious (will all this stuff have happened even if I don’t memorize it?).
Today she is a doctor and I’m a hospice chaplain. In no universe would I have survived medical school or residency and Nancy (God bless her) couldn’t be a chaplain. We’ve both found our callings.
But for all our differences and our love for each other we are both called to be followers of Jesus. And following our call requires us to know who we are and who we aren’t. I give props to John the Baptist for doing exactly that. I’ve spoken before about my admiration for him and I admire him because he knew his calling and was good with it. He wasn’t the Messiah and never, as far as we know, aspired to be. He had his own disciples, yet he pointed to Jesus and said they should be following Jesus instead.
From our perspective it can be tempting to see this as easy: John comes onto the scene with a compelling message, he tells disciples to follow Jesus, and everyone does. But it’s more complicated than that. Jesus was hardly the only person of his time (or for ours, for that matter) who claimed to be the Messiah. Some of them had quite a following and all those followers were disappointed in the end.
They were disappointed because they followed someone who didn’t follow their call to be what God intended of them. Instead they reached beyond their call and attempted to grab something that wasn’t theirs. They followed their own call instead of God’s. And that was the choice John didn’t make. John had his own disciples and he could have proclaimed himself the Messiah but he didn’t and we revere him to this day.
And those disciples who gathered around Jesus almost certainly had no idea where they were going or would end up. When Jesus proclaimed Peter “Cephas” I’m certain Peter had no idea we would see him as our first Pope. If we look across the Communion of Saints we see, time and time again, ordinary people who lived extraordinary lives because they were content to live in a way that gave glory to God.
But our history also shows us a darker side. In the 1980s and 1990s a man named David Koresh began to ascend in a Christian group in Waco Texas called the “Branch Davidians.” By 1993 he proclaimed himself the final Prophet of God and lived in a compound with his followers. I’m guessing nearly everyone knows this story, but when it all finally fell apart he and 79 of his followers were dead.
At the end of the day what do we do with these readings? Well, I think we need to see a few things. First, we need to recognize that following our call is often complicated. Samuel recognized that the voice was God’s only after a few tries. Our call from God, perhaps, isn’t a matter of making the right choice with limited input but perhaps living each day in the desire to follow God’s call.
I also think it means that we should live carefully ensure our call doesn’t simply feed our own ambition or status. Ambition isn’t a bad thing but, much like alcohol, it should be seen in moderation. When ambition stops working as a motivator and starts becoming a goal it should cause us to rethink.
Finally, we need to keep up our guard on those who ignore these words. Followers of David Koresh deluded themselves. They wanted to be disciples of the “final Prophet” so much that they ignored obvious signs of his evil intent. They were seduced to a path that lead to their death. I don’t believe any of us will find ourselves deluded to the point of fatality but we all recognize times when we found ourselves targets of others’ seduction. If we look at the events in our lives that we most regret we can probably find that we were talked into, shamed into, or flattered into poor decisions. Hopefully these events became our best teachers but only if we choose to recognize them and move on.
Ambition and status may call us to one road, but humility and discipleship call us to another road. It’s a better road even if it looks harder and more rocky. Nobody can claim that Samuel, John the Baptist, Jesus, Andrew, or Peter lived easy or simple lives. But they did live faithful lives and we benefit from their decisions.
Let us live our lives in a way benefits the lives of those who follow us.