“Vocation does not need to be "found," vocation needs to be lived. By nature of being born, you have a vocation. You are called to live in the world and be a person in the world. Developing your vocation is about answering the world's specific call to action as the person you are. Vocation is not a "thing," it's a calling. It's a call for reflecting on yourself, on your role in the world, and on the gifts given to you that in turn you can return to the world. Living into your vocation, your calling as a human being, is responding to the portion of reality that is claiming you. The world that says there is a need for peace, justice, mentoring, calmness, action, grace, activism. The world presents many opportunities for you...”
And God’s reply to us is the same as to Jeremiah, and this is the commissioning: “Don’t say [that]; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command...Do not be afraid...for I am with you...” And as God touched Jeremiah, so God touches us, empowers us, with the Word who is Christ.
Commentator David Buttrick tells of a small Scandanavian religious sect with an odd ordination service: when a minister is ordained, the minister at once runs out of the church building and begins preaching in the street. In the same way, God calls you and me out to speak to the wider community, because the Church, whom we are, isn’t an in-house discussion group! “I have set you...over nations and kingdoms...to pluck up...to pull down...to overthrow...to destroy...to plant...to build...” You and I are called in Baptism to challenge, to upset, to not let things stand where they are in people’s lives, to dig new ground, to plant new visions: to build the Body of Christ, to be doers of God’s Word, not just hearers.
Jesus was very aware of his call from God, and Luke indicates that Jesus knew exactly what he was doing in paying a visit to his hometown, Nazareth (as we saw in last week’s Gospel and continuing in today’s account: Luke 4:21-30). “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath...” When they give Jesus a scroll from which to read, it just happens to be a passage from Isaiah’s 61st chapter: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” And thereupon Jesus slips in what we used to call in sales, a “ho-hum crasher”: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus was already doing, in his ministry, what he was calling the members of his hometown synagogue to do.
Now, up to that point he‘d been speaking their language, but he then takes exception to the only ways they had imagined that God’s kingdom would come. If he’d wanted to, Jesus could’ve quoted some other verses from Isaiah: like the one in Chapter 13: “Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the earth a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it.” Sometimes “good” church people seem to feel better when “sinners” gettin’ their due -- and the word “sinners” can cover a multitude of, well, “sins”, and apply not just to people who do bad things, but to people we maybe don’t like so well, or who don’t fit in with us, or who’re “different” from us.
Or Jesus might’ve quoted from Isaiah 30:15: “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” We like to hear those kinds of messages, don’t we? But as someone has said, the preacher’s job is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”.
What Jesus quotes to them are two proverbs: “Physician, heal thyself” and “No prophet is acceptable in the prophet’s hometown.” The first one tips them off that Jesus knows what they want to hear and see: “Do for us here what we’ve heard you did at Capernaum. Let’s see some signs and wonders!” And the second proverb, along with the examples which follow, throws down a challenge to their misplaced faith, to their self-satisfied attitude as God’s chosen and to their resistance to be doers, rather than just hearers of his Word. Jesus says that all sorts of Israelite widows in Elijah’s time needed help and food, but Elijah took care of the widow in Zarephath, a Gentile, who had faith. And there were many lepers in Israel in Elisha’s time, but Naaman the Syrian, another Gentile, had more humble faith and acted out of greater obedience than the chosen people, and so was healed. David Buttrick speaks of the kind of dynamics that are going on here: “...the demand for signs and wonders..., as ever, is big nowadays. To us God is extraordinary and therefore ought to be on display in extraordinary ways -- give us a faith healer’s miracle or some 3-D religious experience. Instead, we are dismayed, for all we get is a human message: good news for the poor, release for prisoners, sight for sightless eyes, and ethics...”
Jesus’ townsfolk can’t handle this, even though they must’ve had some sense that what Jesus was saying was true. So, they’re furious. They kick Jesus out of the synagogue, rush him off to the brink of a hill, intending to throw him over it. But Jesus calmly passes through the crowd and goes on his way.
Calvary was predictable, given the way Jesus’ hometown people treated him in Nazareth. Why is it that when we human beings are confronted with God’s demands, we seem to react by trying to get rid of God? Generation after generation has refused God’s prophets, chased them away, or nailed them on crosses. And that’s the possibility with which God’s confronts you and me in calling us. “...Your vocation is about answering the world's specific call to action as the person you are...responding to the portion of reality that is claiming you.”
If you’d been part of the Nazareth townspeople and someone came to interview you the next day after Jesus had been there, how would you have described what happened? That the hometown boy had come back, and that it was supposed to have been an exciting day. But that he’d disappointed everyone, had twisted the Writings around and gone off on some wild idea about reaching out to Gentiles, of all people, as God had? How the crowd had finally shown him that he and his strange, radical ideas weren’t at all welcome in your synagogue?
“Vocation does not need to be "found," vocation needs to be lived...”