Abraham's call in Sunday's first reading (Gen 12: 1-4) is the first time in Scripture that anyone is called to follow Yahweh. It sets the patterns for all other biblical calls, even those in the Christian Scriptures.

Notice the first thing Yahweh commands: "Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father's house to a land that I will show you!" God never calls anyone to stay. We're always told to move, if not geographically, at least psychologically.

Like Abraham, God invites us to leave the security we've built up through the years and start a quest for a new security: our relationship with God.

Note also that Yahweh never tells Abraham where he's to go. It's simply "a land that I shall show you." The Genesis author is convinced that we must say "yes" to God before we find out where our commitment will lead us. Yet our yes-response to God's call is the only thing that will ever bring true fulfillment and blessing to our lives and to those whose lives we'll touch. Yahweh guarantees that to Abraham and his family. They'll eventually become a blessing for "all the communities of the earth."

Call and works

The unknown author of II Timothy conveys a similar message: "God saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to His own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began" (II Tim 1: 8-10). Just as Abraham did nothing before his call to merit it, so our call has nothing to do with "our works."

Popular piety often sends a counter-message. It leads us to believe that God calls only people who have led a holy life prior to their call. Considering that the biblical word "holy" refers to something or someone "other," our "otherness" springs from the fact that we actually say "yes" to God's invitation. A willingness to do whatever God asks before He asks is what makes us holy. It sets us apart from others.

Because our Christian calling revolves around a determination to follow Jesus, there's always an element of dying and rising in it. That's why the writer refers to Jesus as the one "who destroyed death, and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel."

Just as Abraham died to himself and reached fulfillment by going to the land to which Yahweh led him, so we achieve eternal life by imitating Jesus' death-to-self determination to go wherever God led Him. Though Abraham of Ur knew nothing of Jesus of Nazareth, he, like us, would have identified with the Galilean carpenter's call.

Transfigured

Matthew's Transfiguration narrative adds another dimension to the process (Mt 17: 1-9). Peter, James and John are privileged to see something in Jesus that most people never notice. Since, in the Bible, the Bible itself is usually referred to as "the law and prophets," the appearance of Moses, the lawgiver, and Elijah, the prophet, demonstrates the early Christian belief that Jesus' message completely coincides with the message of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Jesus isn't some kind of Jewish radical, the founder of a new religion. In the mind of His first followers, He's simply someone who takes those Scriptures seriously, and actually tries to live the message and lifestyle they convey.

Just as the historical Jesus listened to the law and the prophets, so God tells us to "listen to Him." The value we place on Scripture should mirror the value He placed on it. It's at the core of our willingness to follow Him. God calls us to make Jesus' value system our value system.

In 40 years of teaching the Bible, I'm still amazed at the quality of life Scripture offers us. It is so life-altering that those who refuse to study the book frequently accuse me of "brainwashing" my students. No wonder Jesus warns His "students" not to tell the vision to anyone "until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead." As Abraham discovered almost 4,000 years ago, some things have to be experienced before they can be believed.

(2/17/05)