When I was a child, the only call from God I expected to hear was a call to the priesthood or religious life. Though my teachers spoke about calls to the single or married "state," the people who came into our classrooms to talk about "vocations" were interested primarily in getting us into seminaries and convents. Compared to such "Church" expectations about God's call, Sunday's three readings are a pleasant, honest relief.

Each author simply speaks about a call to follow God, an invitation which every person of faith receives -- a call to form a relationship with a person, not with an institution or a preconceived lifestyle. God doesn't seem to worry about whether someone's married, single, cleric, religious or lay.

The authors of Scripture rarely deal in accidentals. Because their insights go to the heart of faith, their calls spring from who we and God are individually, and what we can become as persons committed to each another.

Real Yahweh

Often, it's a confusing commitment, as Jonah discovers in the first reading (Jonah 3: 1-5, 10). The prophet is more secure in relating to a theological image of Yahweh than to the real Yahweh. Just as the song reminds us, "falling in love with love in falling for make-believe," so responding to a theological explanation of God is quite different from responding to God. The former is simple; the latter, quite complicated.

One of the problems in relating to real persons instead of relating to images of persons is that real persons constantly change, just as Yahweh changes to Jonah. "When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil He had threatened to do to them; He did not carry it out!" Yahweh destroys Jonah's message of destruction.

Though some theologians prefer that the phrase "He repented" be taken out of Scripture, it's still there, creating problems. The author of Jonah doesn't explain how an immutable God can change. He simply states something everyone who dares form a relationship with God knows: They're relating not to a static, unchangeable concept, but to a real, living person.

This seems to be why Mark begins his Gospel with Jesus calling His first four disciples (Mk 1: 14-20). He wants the members of his Roman community to reflect on their own response to Jesus' call.

At this point in the Gospel, the only part of Jesus' Good News which the four fishermen have heard is His proclamation: "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news!"


Mark has still to explain what it means for God to be present and active in someone's life, or to indicate what kind of repentance is needed before one can perceive that presence. Jesus asks the four to follow Him; not to follow a theology or an institution, just Him.

They respond unselfishly to Jesus' call, immediately leaving everything and everyone to follow Him, just as Mark expects his readers to do.

Of course, following God by responding to Jesus' call leads to just as many contradictions as Jonah faced. Paul describes some of these (in Cor 7: 29-31): "Let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, those using the world as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away."

The last sentence is at the heart of every call from God, whether it's directed to a religion-restricted prophet, four secure fishermen or a law-driven Pharisee. God calls each to break through his limits and to live in the unlimited. The six realize that a "Yes!" will turn their world upside down; yet a "No!" means that they'll never be fully alive.

Considering the implications of responding to God's call to discipleship, answering a call to the priesthood or religious life is a piece of cake. (01-20-00)