Eternal Vocation

Matthew 9:1-8

Each of us has a vocation. For those of us not yet retired, our vocation tends to take up most of our time and energy – it’s how we earn a living, and hopefully it has provided us with a sense of satisfaction. But there is second way of looking at vocation: Theologian NT Wright once called it “the covenant of vocation”. The covenant of vocation is the mission given to every human being. It is our eternal vocation.


Our eternal vocation starts with the “great command”, “You shall love the Lord with all of your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” And, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And then, there was the “Great Commission”: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Matthew’s Gospel over the last number of days has emphasized this “going” or “being sent”, living out our eternal vocation.


The primary difference between the two types of vocations is that one (where we earn a living) is temporal, and the other (the great command and commission) is in fact eternal. While our earthly vocation can be part of our eternal vocation, it will eventually (if it hadn’t already) come to a close.


What these Gospels show is Jesus shepherding his apostles from their mind set of temporal vocation to a mindset of their eternal vocation, and he invites us in the same way today.


In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives the apostles their first assignments. Given their probable mindset of “temporal vocation”, we can probably imagine the bewildered looks on their faces as Jesus outlines their “job description”: to proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand, cure the sick, raise the dead, all that kind of thing.  They likely said, “Jesus, we have no expertise for this occupation. Cure the sick, cleanse the lepers – do we have to go to medical school or some seminar for this?”


Remember that in the mentality of Jesus’ day, those that would have been “called” were only the best of the best, in short, the Rabbis. Rabbis were at the center of the community; they weren’t just teachers, they were judges and leaders of the people. They were the ones who mattered. To become a Rabbi, you had to be mentored by a Rabbi, and to be mentored by a Rabbi, you had to be interviewed by one. Even at that, most of the people who interviewed got turned away because only a small handful made the cut. To be selected, you had to have the right “tools” for that “vocation.” Religious instruction and care all flowed from …the Rabbis.


These twelve were just fishermen, a tax collector, carpenter, shepherd, farmer and merchant, and Jesus knows that. And he essentially says to them, “The secret of your success is that I have chosen you; you have not chosen me. Go, make disciples.” This at first was incomprehensible.


Matthew, a tax collector was just hanging out at a customs post. At first, he must have thought, “You got the wrong guy. I’m no rabbi.”


But then we hear that Matthew "got up and followed him." The verb used in the gospel in the Greek is the same verb used to describe the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead: Matthew rose. When Jesus calls Matthew and he assumes his identity as a disciple, everything changes. A “conversion” takes place. Conversion means a transition into a higher life, from a preoccupation with the goods of the world (our temporal vocation) to a reorientation to the things of God (our eternal vocation).


Like Matthew and the others, Jesus calls us in the midst of our sin and brokenness, and our feeling of unworthiness.


If someone were to hand us a blank piece of paper and a pen, and asked us to write our job description (not the temporal one, the eternal one), what would that look like?  Hopefully, the page will be filled with many great responsibilities, executed on a regular basis – healer, reconciler, gatherer, comforter, welcomer, encourager, and intercessor….and the list can go on and on.


These responsibilities can be done by the rabbis (or religious leaders) of our time, but Jesus has empowered us to do them all, right where we are.


I’ve always felt that the best bosses I’ve ever had in my life were the ones that saw abilities in me that I could never see in myself. Jesus is every bit that best boss, and then some. He sees our potential to do great things today wherever our day takes us, and that’s very good news.


And so we pray today, “Lord, we thank you for another day to live out our vocation. Help us in our conversion to see that our vocation as image bearers for you is an eternal one.  Stir up in us the energy we need to be present in every situation we encounter to proclaim, in our small yet significant way, that the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. Watch over us as we make our journey today. And we give the honor and the glory for whatever good comes from our efforts to you. Amen”!


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