Jesus Finds His Vocation

Jesus Finds His Vocation

All of the gospels at least hint that for a period of time Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptist.  He traveled from Nazareth to the River Jordan to see and hear the prophet in the wilderness.  The early church was somewhat embarrassed to

admit that Jesus had followed John for a time, and so the Gospel of John in particular tries to gloss over Jesus’ baptism at the hands of John.  But in Luke the evangelist is unequivocal and unapologetic, when he says, “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized. . .”

We do not know what events in the life of Jesus led up to his seeking baptism.  From the age of twelve until about thirty, when he sought out John the Baptist at the River Jordan, the gospels are silent.  Tradition tells us he was a carpenter from Nazareth.  What experiences, relationships, thoughts, led him to seek baptism at the hands of John?

First Century Israel was a hot bed of political, economic and class conflict, acted out through theology and religion.  Sort of sounds like the Twenty-first Century, doesn’t it?  The Jews were an occupied people, straining under the oppression of the Roman Empire.  The local rulers, the Herods and the Temple Leadership, were squeezing the people to raise the tribute money to pay to Rome, and to enrich themselves.  Peasants were being pushed into debt, and the rich were foreclosing on their mortgages, increasing the number of landless peasants, who had to scramble for a living driving wages down.  The poor were becoming desperately poor, and as a carpenter Jesus was accounted among the landless laborers.  Jesus was a keen observer of all that was happening around him, and when he heard about the ministry of John the Baptist and his message, Jesus left his carpenter shop and traveled to the River Jordan.

John the Baptist was preaching against the Herods, their collaboration with the Roman occupation, and with the corruption of the Temple Leadership participating in the movement to push the peasants off of their land.  John was a member of a priestly family,  and he fervently believed the High Priests should have been the guardians of the law, and they were refusing to enforce the provisions for the jubilee, the cancelation of debts, the freeing of slaves and the return of land to the original owners.

John believed Israel had become so hopelessly corrupt God must surely be about ready to send the Messiah – repent the Kingdom of God is at hand.  He was calling upon the people to come into the wilderness, to free themselves of the pollution of the Roman Occupation, to rigorously keep the law, and make a decision to join the Commonwealth of God.  His message was simple.  Leave behind the worldly pursuit of wealth and power, and share.  “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.”  Join the Commonwealth of God share and take care of one another.

As a sign of initiation into the Commonwealth of God, John called upon all those who followed him to be baptized.  Now baptism had been used before in Israel, as part of the ceremony for Gentiles who converted to Judaism.  John was saying, it’s not enough to be born a Jew, you have to choose the way of life that leads into the Common Wealth of God.  In response to the message of John, Jesus waded out into the Jordan, the River that represented the life blood of Israel, and when he came up out of the water and prayed, something dramatic happened, the Holy Spirit showed up.

The text is not clear, whether Jesus experienced a private vision, or whether the dove and the voice from heaven could be heard and seen by everyone else.  Whether the vision was public or private, Jesus was moved so profoundly he retreated into the wilderness to consider his vocation.  What does vocation mean?  Let’s turn to the devotional writer Frederick Buechner.

“Vocation” comes from the Latin vocare (to call) and means the work a [person] is called to by God.

“There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of society, say, or the superego, or self-interest.

“The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need to do and (b) that the world needs to have done. If you find your work rewarding, you have presumably met requirement (a), but if your work does not benefit others, the chances are you have missed requirement (b).  On the other hand, if your work does benefit others, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you are unhappy with it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping other people much either.  “Neither the hair-shirt or the soft berth will do.  The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

In the wilderness, after facing the temptations from his shadow side, Jesus concluded that God was calling him to become Messiah.  Jesus, however, like us, had more than one vocation.  He was a carpenter, a member of the Synagogue in Nazareth, a neighbor a brother, a son, and finally Messiah.  He sought to be faithful to God by embracing his vocations.

Our scripture today challenges us to discern and embrace our vocations.  God hasn’t called any of us to become Messiah.  That’s actually good news.  We don’t have to be Jesus.  We don’t have to be crucified.  We don’t have to raise people from the dead.  No, when we come before God to give an accounting of our lives, we won’t be asked why were you not Jesus?  Rather we will be asked, why were you not John, why were you not Bob, why were you not Kristie, why were you not Jennifer?  God has blessed each one of us with unique gifts and opportunities that help to define our vocations, and a vocation is not just how we earn a living.  Mothering, Fathering, Grand-parenting are important tasks God calls us to perform in our families and in the world.

In addition to our jobs, that occupy much of our time, God may also call us to significant volunteer responsibilities:  Little League coach, Brownie Leader, Scout Master, Youth Group Adviser, Sunday School teacher, Meals on Wheels, Habitat for Humanity.  Our vocations may evolve over time, as we move from parenting into grand-parenting, and from paid employee to more volunteer commitments.  But we should always be open to hear God’s calling to service.

So how do we know, to what potential jobs God might be calling us?   Listen again to Frederick Buechner’s definition.  Vocation is something we need to do, and is something the world needs to have done.  I include in the definition of things we “need” to do, things we enjoy doing.   Every job, every volunteer commitment involves tasks we do not like.  The vocation of parenthood includes changing dirty diapers.  Holding down a job means going into work, when we don’t feel like it.  So O.K. there are tasks we don’t like, but if there isn’t something in our labor that gives us meaning and joy, we won’t be able to sustain a commitment to the work.  If I am a doctor in a leper colony and I hate my work, I probably won’t be doing my patients much good.  So in trying to discern the vocations to which God is calling us, we need to ask, do I really enjoy this work?

Another issue in discerning God’s call is whether or not we possess the gifts and talents to perform the tasks.  We cannot put in what God left out.  When God is calling us to a new vocation we need to be open to discovering gifts we do not know we possess.  If God really wants us to do something, God will supply all that we need.  I am reminded of the Kudzu Cartoon where the Rev. Will B. Dunn prays for patience.  He looks down at his watch, and then looks back to heaven and says, “Well?”

Prayer is important in discerning our vocations.  When Jesus came up out of the water, he prayed, and that is when the heavens opened and he had a life changing experience.  We need to pray if we want to know what God wants us to do.

Jesus not only experienced the Holy Spirit in prayer, he retreated into the wilderness to fast and pray, and figure out what his vision meant, what kind of Messiah he was being called to become, and how he would answer that call.  Often our noses are so pressed to the daily grind stone, we can’t see straight.  Retreating to the spiritual mountain top can provide us with the time, the space, the time for reflection, in our struggle to discern our vocation from God’s perspective.

We also need to learn to think about different vocations in different stages of life.  In the First Century, children entered adulthood around 12 or 13 years of age.  Girls apprenticed to their mothers and then married off.  Boys were apprenticed to their Fathers or another male relative until they became able to earn a living, and then as men and women, they worked at the trade they had learned until they died.  Today most people will change jobs multiple times and may even change professions four or five times during their working lives.  Young people entering the employment market today thirty years from now will be working at jobs that don’t even exist yet.

We also have more leisure time than most people in the First Century.  We have opportunities for volunteer vocations no one dreamed of one-hundred years ago.  Most of us also expect someday to retire, and have opportunities to pursue new vocational goals in retirement.  Therefore we need to plan for changing stage of life vocations.

A minister, a priest and a rabbi were invited to serve on a panel presentation on the beginning of life.  The minister said, “Life begins at birth.”

The Priest responded, “life begins at the moment of conception.”

Finally the Rabbi contributed, “Life?  When does life begin?  Life begins when the dog dies and the children leave home!” — stage of life vocations.

Let me mention one other approach to discerning our vocations.  Beth gave me a very insightful book for Christmas entitled, Soul Types:  Matching Your Personality and Spiritual Path.  I am suggesting that the Thursday Soup with the Pastor take up this book.  The authors not only offer insight into the spiritual practices that are most compatible with our basic personality types, but they also suggest alternative devotional styles that may be helpful to us as we mature into new life stages and vocations.  Remember Jesus was thirty years old when he embraced the vocation of Messiah in a world where average life span was just over forty years of age.  May there is hope for us yet?

So let us pray, grow, mature discerning God’s purposes for our lives.


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