Going all the way back to Abraham's first
encounter with Yahweh in Genesis 12, "call narratives" comprise
some of the most important passages in Scripture. They're either described
or presumed by every sacred author. Such an event is essential to their
It's no accident, for instance, that almost
immediately after Mark describes God's baptismal annunciation to Jesus, he
has the Galilean carpenter begin His public ministry by calling others to
help Him carry out His commission (Mark 1:14-20).
Jesus first invites Simon and his brother
Andrew to "come after me, and I will make you fishers of men."
Daniel Harring-ton points out, in the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, that
this metaphor "is best interpreted against the background of their
In other words, Jesus wasn't saying that He
was sending them out to "catch" people. He simply was trying to
impress upon them that people would replace fish at the center of their
That is a key element in all biblical calls:
The person called must readjust his or her priorities. What once was
important is now peripheral; what formerly was on the perimeter is now at
Having been preconditioned in my early life and
later seminary training to hear Sunday's Gospel as Jesus' calling His
first four "priests," I missed much of what Mark was trying to
convey in the passage. Jesus is calling them to be His first Christians, not
His first priests. Every element in the narrative applies to every person
who agrees to be a follower of Jesus. This is how all Christians are
expected to react to the call they receive.
That's why much is made of the fact that,
along with the first set of brothers, James and John "left their father
Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed Him." None of
the four sets a date in the future to change their occupation or asks for
time to dispose of their assets. Their response to Jesus' call is
immediate and total.
Perhaps the most fascinating element of
biblical calls is that the called are never informed exactly where or to
what they're being called. Our sacred authors believe it's essential
that calls be "generic." The only specific element is that
"you're to follow me." God always invites us to follow a person,
not a system or a program.
That personal element is at the root of Jonah's
problem (Jonah 3:1-5,10). He doesn't particularly like Yahweh's
personality. That's why he originally "ran away from Yahweh."
The prophet demands some predictability in God, specifically that Yahweh
should carry out the word he gives the prophet to proclaim.
In the case of Jonah's mission to the
Ninevites, Yahweh's message is clear: "Forty days more and Nineveh
will be destroyed!" We can only imagine how disturbing it is for the
prophet to discover that "God repented of the evil He had threatened to
do to them; He did not carry it out."
Unpredictable things happen when one gives
oneself to a person instead of to a theological system. Perhaps every call
from God should be accompanied with the warning, "Hang on! Lord knows
(literally) where it's going to take us!"
No wonder Paul warns his Corinthian community
about the rough, jolting faith-ride they're beginning (I Cor 7:29-31). It's
like nothing they've experienced before: "Let those having wives act
as not having them, those weeping as not weeping...."
Once one says "Yes!" to God, things
will never be the same, and the unexpected will be the expected.
Maybe it would be good to paraphrase John Donne's
well-known poetic line, "Never send to know for whom the bell
tolls." Today, we should hear, "Never send to know whom God calls.
God calls you."