Visitors - Come on in and say hello!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Call of Christ: Set Apart for the Kingdom of God

(copyright May, 2009)

Throughout the Gospel of Luke, one can note the theme of "The Call" of Jesus Christ, which by revelation culminates, ultimately, in the Cross, leading to the Resurrection. Those who were called and united with Jesus in a special way continued the mission He began in the book of Acts, where it is developed even further. We can see how those who are called to dedicate themselves to the work of salvation in a particular way are called also to sacrifice, and even suffer in order to fulfill their mission. Many are called to follow Christ, but not in the same way. Some are called to give up everything, even unto their lives, while others are called to live a different kind of sacrifice exactly where they will remain, making the Lord known and loved through everyday actions. In looking at these interwoven themes, it appears that Luke’s gospel lays the foundation of this Call, and Acts reveals how this Call, ultimately began to be fulfilled and remains so today.

We will first consider those passages that seem to reveal a special call to someone who has been set aside in some way for the Kingdom of God, followed by a discussion of the call belonging to those to whom Christ is revealed; to follow Him and proclaim Him in every facet of life. It begins in the first chapter of Luke, where the first clear call of God is delivered by the Angel Gabriel, telling Mary that the Holy Spirit shall overshadow her and she shall bear the Son of God. (Lk 1:35) She gave her fiat, and upon learning from the angel of her cousin Elizabeth’s own pregnancy, she rose to join her, pondering deep within her heart her own mysterious role. We can see through these passages that God’s call is one of sacrifice, for Mary took leave of her own home in order to serve in a new capacity, not yet fully understanding what was to come. There, when she greets Elizabeth, we meet, leaping within her womb, the one God has designated to be the prophet of the Son of God. (Lk 1:76)

 Already a pattern is developing, for the Lord makes His intentions known to those whom He calls, and those responsible for making sure that Call is fulfilled. 

Obviously, there are those designated by God alone, to be set apart for service to Him in His plan of salvation. While some of this idea of a designated role is present in the Levitical priesthood, it is through the birth and dedication of John the Baptist, uttered by his father Zechariah in verse seventy-six (Luke 1:76) that we understand God has called him to a particular mission in life.

There seems to be evidence from the text of Luke itself that men and women even before the time of Christ were called to serve God alone in a special capacity. Luke 2:27-35 reveals how the Holy Spirit inspired Simeon, who was “righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel”. He prophesies the purpose of the infant Jesus, and the linked Vocation of Mary, making a clear declaration that with this great gift nestled in her arms, she would be called to suffer as well. Luke 2:36 brings in the prophetess, Anna, a widow who did not depart from the temple, but fasted and prayed every day, dedicating her life to the Lord. She, too, was a witness to Simeon’s prophecy and recognized immediately the Call to proclaim Him to all those looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke 3: 23 tells us that Jesus began his active ministry when he was thirty years old. Even as He sat in the temple proclaiming the Good News, healing the sick, those hearing were divided, and some sought to kill Him. This brings us to recognition of the theme of suffering, for Christ Himself could not live out his purpose in the world without suffering. In Luke 4:42, Jesus declares His mission, to preach the Good News (gospel), for, as he says, “he was sent for this purpose”. This is a clear declaration of being sent, set apart and designated for a particular cause; and in this case, it was the Son of God living out first in a perfect example what He would ask his followers to do as well.

In Luke 5, Jesus calls Simon, James, and John, but before He calls them, He asks them to make an act of faith. Jesus sees them washing their nets and gets into one of the boats, asking to be put out a little from the land, where He sits down and begins to teach. When He is finished, He directs Simon to put out his nets for a catch. Simon protests that they’d had no success all night, but “at your word I will let down the nets.” It is here that Jesus is revealed in a catch that so fills the boats that they nearly sink. Jesus’ Call to Simon and his partners, James and John, is simple: “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” As the text tells us they left everything to follow Him. Jesus gave the fishermen an abundance but as we can see, the Lord and his work was worthy of the sacrifice of material possessions.

In Luke 6:13-16, Jesus, after a night of prayer, chose from all of his disciples, twelve to be set apart in a special way, to accompany Him in His mission as Apostles. This is not a denigration of those disciples who were not set apart in this way, for indeed, as disciples they had their own mission to Christ. Yet we see that because Christ called only twelve, there was significance in their role and relationship to Him.

In Luke 9, Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, then sent them out to preach. Here we begin to see more of the related theme of sacrifice and suffering. Jesus directly addresses the necessity of suffering for the Kingdom of God in Luke 9:22: “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Jesus immediately made this relevant to the role of the Apostles, that they might clearly understand the Call to which they were responding: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake he will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24). Yet this call to suffer is not for the sake of suffering and sacrifice in and of themselves, but ultimately, for the Glory of God, for the Resurrection. To do as Christ wills, one must have nothing, but depend upon the will of God in all service, to follow Christ in an act of trust, and an act of faith. It is another way of casting out a net as they went on their mission “fishing for men.”

It is important to note another form of a call which arrives with the birth of Christ: the first to learn of His birth are the humble shepherds watching their flocks in the night. The angel appears to them to reveal the birth of the Savior, and they rise immediately to go to the side of Christ. After their visitation, they return to their regular lives, changed, praising and glorifying God. (Lk 1:8-20) It cannot be a mistake that the first to visit the side of Christ proleptically reveals the future birth of the Church from the side of Christ on the Cross; thus here we see a call belonging to all believers; those who come into contact with Christ always return and proclaim His Glory and make this a way of life even within any humble state.

In returning to Luke 6:13-16, we see that Jesus had disciples who were not part of the twelve set apart. What of these disciples? Were they not also called to follow Him? Luke 6:46-49 defines those who may call Him “Lord” as “Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them.” This points to those who may not be set apart, but clearly are called to follow Him, not just to listen, but to DO as He does. It seems that as the life of Christ progresses, from the very first moment, all who come into contact with Him realize that there is a change. A pattern is emerging, an unspoken call to all those who come into His presence must make a decision:  either to disregard Him OR to become His disciple, and of those, to give up everything in order to be free to give themselves fully to Him, even if it leads to the Cross!

These themes of a special Calling, related to sacrifice and suffering, continue in the book of Acts, for there, the foundation of the Call has been laid, and the work of Our Lord continues in the hands and voices of those He called to sacrifice for His people.

In Acts 1:24, the Apostles choose another to take the place of Judas, and in that process, they pray to know not whom they want to choose, but whom GOD has chosen to take the place in ministry and apostleship.

From the very beginning of this book, we can see immediately the theme of a revelation continuing; and that it is God who calls, God who chooses, and this choice is expressed through those to whom authority has been given. This is expressed again in Acts 6:3-6, as the Apostles choose from among the disciples “seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” to be appointed to serve in a special capacity. They laid their hands on the seven in this act of ordination which clearly set these men apart from the others. The Navarre Bible Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles addresses this passage, stating, “A person can be elected or designated by the faithful; but power to carry out that ministry (which implies a calling from God) is something he must receive through ordination, which the Apostles confer.” (p.61) It is God Who gives the authority and the ability to live out the Call to which they have answered.

Stephen was one of these men ordained in Acts 6 as one of the seven priests, and as he spoke with the power of the Holy Spirit, we become witnesses to the other part of the Call of God; sacrifice. He preaches eloquently and as a result of speaking the Word of God, of preaching of the death and resurrection of Christ, he becomes the first martyr to follow in the bloody footsteps of Our Lord. The resulting persecution of Christians for their faith causes them to scatter, yet in their scattering they do not deny Christ, but continue to preach Him to all nations. Here, this dispersion and the resulting spread of Christianity reveals the link between those who are set apart to guide the faithful, and the actions of the faithful themselves, for they work together for the same end: to spread the Gospel to all nations.

Saul’s conversion, which we could say happened as a direct result of Stephen’s own prayer for him makes up a great portion of this theme; in Acts 9:4-6 Saul is knocked to the ground, blinded, and sent by God to Damascus where he is to be taken to Ananias. Ananias is hesitant, but the Lord explains, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine, to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15-16) In this passage, Saul is called, but in Acts 13:2-3, he and Barnabas are “set apart” and given the authority to preach, sent by the Holy Spirit on a mission from God. Yet we cannot ignore that once again, the theme of suffering for the sake of God’s kingdom was addressed from the very beginning. In Acts 26:16-18, Paul is speaking, reiterating how he received his Call from God to bear witness, and following passages reveal the necessity of suffering.

 Paul did not preach a barren bloodless gospel, nor did he or any of the Apostles live a barren cross without meaning.

In summary, we have traced the theme of God’s Call through Luke and Acts, what that meant, and see the clear indication of Authority granted by God and expressed through those whom He calls. It was a continuation, built through Luke, brought to fulfillment and example in the Cross of Christ, and, we see through Acts the full expression of the life of Christ in His ministers (the Holy Priesthood of Christ.)  We have considered even the role of women who have been Called and set apart to serve the Lord, dedicated specifically to the needs of the Church, and even this has roots in the Tradition of the women who had been dedicated to serve in the temple of Jerusalem.

 It is also important to address the other role of the disciples of Christ; those who were called to serve in their regular state of life, living the Gospel and spreading it within their own homes and cities, empowered through the instruction of those called to lead them and aid them in the sanctifying and fundamentally missionary life in Christ. The vast majority of Luke and Acts addresses this call, and it is one which must be followed; those who encounter Christ in any way are forced to make a decision, and it is the same one we must all answer:

 Will we follow Him, too, wherever He calls?

Author's Note:
The above is a paper (edited for blog use) which I wrote for my New Testament course on Luke-Acts, in which our professor told us to find a theme in our reading and follow it. At the time as I was in discernment, it was easy for me to pick out the early Church's concept of Vocation, and it seems that this week, being Vocations Awareness Week, is an appropriate time to post the article. I do not offer it as a professional publication, only an academic but scriptural exploration; one which could be expounded upon. It is my prayer that this exploration of the theme of Vocation in Luke-Acts is helpful to anyone who happens upon it.

No comments: