Vocation narratives are some of the most human scenes in the Old Testament. They are also some of the most touching passages, perhaps because they find a deep resonance in our own experience of being called and thereby challenged by God. Anyone who is not spiritually aware enough would not even perceive the reality of God’s calling and would not resonate with the profound emotion evident in such encounter narratives.
Moses was an OK fellow, an honest man who owned and honored his Hebrew roots and did not let his position at court erode his solidarity with his people. It was because he slew an Egyptian to defend a fellow Hebrew that he had to flee the land. [Ex. 2:11-14] It was his good heart that made him come to the defense of Reuel’s shepherd daughters as he wandered in the desert. [Ex. 2:15-17] Moses was an OK fellow. But one day Yahweh asked him to stretch beyond being OK into something more (what Ignatius of Loyola would later call the magis), and Moses was shaken up and scared. With different words his reaction was: “Is being OK not enough? You are complicating my life and asking me to take pointless risks. You have the wrong guy.”
Moses’ reaction is typical of other calling scenes in the Old Testament: Gideon, Isaiah, Jeremiah... —good people (OK fellows) who were minding their own businesses before being asked to stretch into the magis and mind God’s business. They and Moses were overcome by an overwhelming awareness of disproportion between what they felt they were capable of doing and what they were being asked to do. And this awareness led them to fear and to come up with “reasonable” excuses.
This awareness of disproportion is right on target: ultimately there is no proportion between what we can contribute —our five loaves and two fishes— and what God intends to achieve with our effort —satisfying people’s hunger. Whenever we feel objectively proportionate to God’s calling, we have stopped where the transcendent begins. Of course we are very much proportionate to the various tasks we have been trained for. But is that not true also of unbelievers? —“even pagans do that”. [Mt. 5:48] We are not necessarily called to do different things, but to do things differently, to do them in the context of being called and sent. That is why Yahweh’s reply to Moses’ fear —and to Gideon’s and Isaiah’s and Jeremiah’s— is: “Do not be afraid, I am with you.” It is the bottom line, the deep root of courage in the “Calling of the Eternal King” of the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius: a call to be and to act WITH ME.
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