Sunday’s Readings | 2 Pentecost, June 11
These commendatory words are said of Job in the opening lines of the book bearing his name: “He was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). Throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament, and unfailingly in the life of the Church, there has been a concern for a right relationship with God marked by love and devotion, and a commitment to the welfare of the human community. Works of righteousness and justice and mercy matter immensely. Still, the call of God upon a human life often has little or nothing to do with good works or virtue or wisdom, or any laudable human characteristic.
God does not call Abram because Abram is good. God calls Abram to leave his country and kindred, to venture out to an unknown place, a region of trust and hope, a land of promise and the assurance of blessing. Abram will be a blessing to all nations because God said, “Let it be!” Thus, God may call anyone to be a providential and overflowing blessing to others. Moreover, in some quite obvious respects, Abram seems patently unsuited to the call, yet the call is issued all the same.
As St. Paul remarks, Abram trusts the God “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations,’ according to what was said, ‘So numerous shall your descendants be.’ He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb” (Rom. 4:17-19). Abram, St. Paul continues, was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Rom. 4:21).
This story is a kind of prototype. God does not call because a person is blameless and upright. The call is not a reward, and it certainly is not deserved. God calls out of his freedom, without any external compulsion. In this way, God calls each of us out of an infinite wellspring of being and love, a life-giving generosity without end. Oh, this can be so hard to believe. Indeed, considering human frailty in general or as we may each experience it in the wounds of soul and body, we are “as good as dead.” All we go down to the grave. And yet the living God “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom. 4:17).
For this calling to reach every human being, God humbled himself, assuming the form of a slave to reach and save those enslaved by sin and death. Jesus turns to the sinner again and again, as he is turning to us. “As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples” (Matt. 9:9-10). Predictably, this offended the religiously respectable. It still does. So, we need reminding, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. … For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” (Matt. 9:12-13).
Blessed are the meek, the needy, the sick, the sinner, the frail, the elderly, and the barren. Humanly speaking, none of this sounds like a blessing until God — in wonder, mystery, and love — deigns to call.
Look It Up: Psalm 33:6
Think About It: By the breath of his mouth, you have your being and your calling.