Answering God's Call - Vocation Stories in the Bible

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter - Vocation Sunday

by Fr. Tommy Lane

It is interesting to read in the Bible that those whom God called did not always immediately say “Yes” but sometimes hesitated a great deal before finally answering God’s call. When God called Moses he objected many times to God’s call. God said to Moses, “I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt” (Ex 3:11) and Moses replied, “Who am I to go to Pharaoh…?” Then in the Book of Exodus there is a long conversation between God and Moses and several times God has to reassure Moses that he will be with him to help him but each time Moses finds some new excuse for not answering God’s call. The next excuse Moses gave God was, “but suppose they [the Hebrews] will not believe me or listen to my words, and say to me, ‘Yahweh has not appeared to you’?” (Ex 4:1). Again God reassured him but Moses found another excuse, “Please my Lord, I have never been eloquent…for I am slow and hesitant of speech.” (Ex 4:10). Again God reassured Moses but once again Moses made an excuse, “Please, my Lord, send anyone you decide to send!” (Ex 4:13) It was quite a struggle for God to get Moses to answer his call. Moses knew that it would be difficult to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and he hesitated many times when called by God but eventually he answered the call. He surrendered himself and his way of thinking to God who knows what is best.

Another great person of the Old Testament who struggled with his vocation is the prophet Jeremiah. God said to him,

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
Before you came to birth I consecrated you;
I appointed you as prophet to the nations.” (Jer 1:5)

But Jeremiah did not respond with faith, at first he responded with lack of faith like Moses. He said, “Lord Yahweh, I do not know how to speak, I am only a child.” (Jer 1:6) But after an interior struggle Jeremiah answered God’s call.

There are other great characters in the Old Testament who did not hesitate like Moses and Jeremiah but who responded in faith immediately to God’s call. God asked Abram [Abraham] to leave his country for a country he would show him where he would make him a great nation (Gen 12:1-3). And immediately we read, “So Abram went as Yahweh told him…” (Gen 12:4). Here there is no struggle with God, Abraham’s faith enabled him to say yes to God immediately. Another example of saying yes to God quickly is the prophet Isaiah. He saw a vision of God in the temple in Jerusalem and heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” (Isa 6:8) And immediately he responded, “Here I am, send me.” (Isa 6:9) All these four great people said yes to God, Moses and Jeremiah after a struggle, and Abram and Isaiah responded quickly in faith.

Not everybody who was called in the Bible answered God’s call. In Mark 10:17-22 the rich young man turned his back on Jesus’ call. The young man had kept all the commandments since his youth and we read that Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him. Jesus asked him to do one more thing, to sell what he had and follow Jesus. But the young man’s face fell at these words of Jesus and he went away sad. He went away sad because he wanted to follow Jesus and he wanted to keep his possessions. As in the case of Moses and Jeremiah, the twin responses ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ were struggling within him. Answering God’s call held a fascination for him but it was also frightening. He wanted to have everything but that is impossible. He had to make a choice but he did not have the generosity to put Jesus before his possessions. Answering God’s call is exciting but as in every decision we make it involves saying no to other possibilities. The young man had a vocation but he freely chose not to answer it because he did not want to say no to some of the possibilities that life offered him. But in saying no to his vocation he surely lost out on greater possibilities and greater potential for happiness. We read that he went away sad. How could he be happy since he had just rejected Jesus’ call to him?

From these characters in the Bible, and there are many more stories of vocation in the Bible, we see that it takes faith and courage to answer God’s call. We also see that not everyone who was called did answer the call. This reminds us on this Sunday, Vocation Sunday, to pray for those being called by the Lord that they will have the courage and generosity to answer God’s call. Let us pray for those who are in seminary and religious houses at this time discerning if they have a vocation that the Lord will guide and bless them. Let us pray for priests and religious that the Lord will continue to bless them in their vocations. I encourage you to continue to pray for vocations throughout the year, not just today. Pray that many will say to God like Mary, “Be it done unto me according to your word.”

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered when I was engaged in parish ministry in Ireland before joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

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