Few biblical passages are more important than “call narratives.” From Yahweh’s call to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 12 to Jesus’ gospel calls of his disciples. When the original readers of Scripture heard the word “call” in any writing, their ears perked up and they listened intently. Long before Jesus’ followers separated themselves into clergy and laity, all who followed Yahweh and/or Jesus were convinced they, like their biblical counterparts, had also been called.
Though many of my grade school teachers assured us everyone would receive a call to a specific “vocation,” only those who heard a voice beckoning, or felt a pull to the priesthood or religious life really seemed to have been called by God. If you were among those who didn’t hear that particular voice or experience that special pull, it was understood God was expecting you to get married and raise a bunch of kids - one of whom might one day hear the call you never received.
Our sacred authors know nothing about calls to the priesthood or religious life. Those two ways of living the faith developed long after our biblical canon was closed. Scripture writers know only about the call all disciples of Yahweh or Jesus receive: a call to be open to doing whatever God asks. That’s why biblical call narratives are so significant. They prompt the faithful to reflect on their own calls and the consequences which come when one responds “Yes!” to them.
Though these narratives are frequently found at the beginning of many books, these passages are probably some of the last to take form. The closer to the end of one’s life, the clearer one’s call becomes.
As we hear in our first reading, Isaiah places Yahweh’s all important question, “Whom shall I send?” in the context of a temple worship service - an ideal location for the prophet to reflect on Yahweh’s grandeur and his own unworthiness. “Woe is me,” he says, “I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of hosts.” Prophets are God’s mouthpiece. How can an imperfect human take on the task of being Yahweh’s lips for the community?
God quickly erases Isaiah’s excuse by sending a seraph to “purify” his lips. If God issues the call, God will supply what’s necessary to live up to that call. The prophet - and we - has no choice. “Here I am,” he answers, “send me!”
Simon Peter discovers that God’s call can come anywhere, any time - even in the midst of one of his most embarrassing moments. He just had to “eat crow.” Not only had he hesitated to return to the lake and try one last time for a catch, now his boat was overflowing with fish. But Jesus doesn’t rub it in; he goes the opposite direction. “Don’t be afraid; from now on you’ll be catching people.” Stupidity is never an obstacle to Jesus’ call.
No matter the situation or our unworthiness, Paul tells us God never summons us to deal in minutiae. Discipleship always consists in proclaiming the most important parts of our faith. The Apostle reminds his Corinthian community, “I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins...; that he was buried...; that he was raised on the third day; that he appeared. . . .” Our insistence on these basics of faith should be the outward sign that God, in the person of the risen Jesus, has broken into our lives. Unlike some manifestations of religious life, we wear no distinguishing clothes, sport no honorific titles, demand no special privileges. We simply spend our lives constantly dying and rising with Jesus.