Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time B
Remember picking teams in gym class or at recess? I was often one of the last kids to be chosen. I wasn’t exactly a nerd…but nobody was going to mistake me for a jock. The team captains didn’t have much confidence in my athletic abilities…and neither did I, as a matter of fact.
It stings a bit when we get passed over—and not just when we’re little kids. You finally get the courage to ask that beautiful gal/that handsome guy to go out on a date, and he or she says, “No thanks.” You apply for your dream job, and you don’t get hired. But as much as rejection stings, we know what joy it brings to the heart when we’re noticed, when we’re acknowledged, when we’re chosen, when we’re made to feel that we belong. And our desire for recognition, our need to belong, can sometimes cause us to veer in the wrong direction in order to get some attention.
We human creatures—even the most introverted among us—are inherently social creatures. This is not only a matter of our emotional health, but also of our physical health (especially when we’re near life’s beginning or its end) and of our spiritual wellbeing, too.
Did you notice what St. Paul said in those verses from early in his letter to the Ephesians? He said it repeatedly and in a variety of ways: that God the Father has chosen us in Christ—even before he created the world; that he has destined us for adoption as his own; that he has redeemed us, forgiven us, blessed us with every blessing in heaven; that he longs to lavish us with the riches of his grace.
God has chosen you! You belong to him! God is your Father, just as much as he is Jesus’ Father.
But why would God do such a thing? Experience in this world tells us that we often get picked because of what we can do, because of what another person needs from us, based on how useful we’ll be. And feeling valued for what we are able to accomplish gives shape to a whole lot of people’s identity. But what does God need from us? What can we possibly do for him? Nothing, of course. Which means that the only explanation for why he has chosen us is—pure and simple—out of love.
In an age that celebrates personal freedom, that thinks we have the freedom to choose our own path, to define ourselves, to be or become any ol’ things we want to be, we need this reminder: that what matters most is not what we choose, but that we have been chosen; that my real identity rests not in my own freedom of choice, but in God’s perfect freedom in choosing me as his own.
Just let that amazing truth of our faith sink in…
We see it in the call of the prophet Amos. He begins to proclaim God’s message in the royal sanctuary at Bethel, and the priests of the shrine—members of the “establishment”—start asking, “Just who do you think you are, coming here and claiming to speak on the Lord’s behalf?” Amos’ response provides such a lesson: “Look, I know I’m just a country bumpkin—a tender of sheep and a pruner of trees. I don’t know why he did it—maybe it’s because I’m such an unlikely candidate—but all I know for certain is that God has chosen me to be his prophet. If you have a problem with that, you’ll have to take it up with the Lord.”
God has a part for you to play—specifically for you—in the great drama of salvation. No, you don’t get to write the script. He’s chosen your part, and no one else can do it. It’s all within God’s mysterious purpose, God’s plan. You have been set apart for his service. Discovering and fulfilling that special role is the secret to happiness.
We also see it in the sending out of the Twelve. Jesus sends his apostles out to preach, to heal, and to battle the evil one. These guys were not the “first string.” We’re not talking about men from prominent families, well-respected rabbis, or otherwise recognized community leaders. A full third of them are fishermen! (And not very good ones, from some of the stories you hear.) Jesus sends this motley crew out on mission very nearly—literally—empty-handed. That should make it clear to all: any truth they speak, any wonders worked at their hands, will not come from these Twelve mere mortals, but from the heavenly Father of Jesus Christ who sent them.
God does not call those who are qualified; God qualifies those he has called.
God has chosen you—chosen you out of sheer love. Find your true identity in having been picked to be on the Father’s team. And find your true calling, your vocation, in the position the Lord has designated for you—and you alone—to play.