Welcome to the Society of Saint John the Evangelist

Called to Be Who We Are – Br. David Vryhof

The Feast of Saint Andrew

Matthew 4:18-22, John 1:35-42

“The trouble with the idea of vocation,” writes Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, “is that most of us, if we are honest, have a rather dramatic idea of it.” We tend to think of it as God finding us a part to play in the ongoing work of God in the world. We look at it as a role that God chooses for us to play in the grand scheme of things, a part for which we have been uniquely selected and set apart.

While this is true and even “central to the Christian doctrine of vocation,” Williams goes on to say, “there is a lot that it doesn’t say. On this pattern, the will of God is seen as still being something very like the preferences of God: God would like so-and-so to be a priest or nun or something, and that is what so-and-so must be.”

Vocation can then seem like “a dreadful falling into the hands of the living God,” writes Williams, “God has decided; I may struggle or revolt, but here is this clear will, to be done whatever the cost. All I’m asked for is compliance: in a real sense, I have no rights here. I obey, I bear the crucifying consequences, because I have, however dimly and weakly, chosen to love God and to do his will, chosen to see obedience as the one ultimately, unconditionally worthwhile thing a human being can do. It may seem arbitrary, but the clay doesn’t argue with the potter.”

But there is another way of understanding the idea of vocation, Williams claims, and that is to understand it as part of God’s calling us into being. “God calls [us], consecrates [us] to his service, by giving [each of us] a name… So in the most basic sense of all, God’s call is the call to be : the vocation of creatures is [first of all] to exist. And, second, the vocation of creatures is to exist as themselves , to be bearers of their names, answering to the Word that gives each its distinctive identity.”

“To be is to be where you are, who you are, and what you are,” writes Williams, “ a person with a certain genetic composition, a certain social status, a certain set of capabilities…And to talk about God as your creator means to recognize at each moment that it is his desire for you to be, and to be the person you are. It means he is calling you by your name, at each and every moment, wanting you to be you.” [1]

Today we honor the memory of an apostle named Andrew. We know very little of who Andrew was or of what he eventually became. He was a fisherman from Galilee, the younger brother of Simon, who came to be called Peter. The gospel of Matthew tells us that when Jesus called Andrew and Peter, they immediately left their nets and followed him. The gospel of John recalls the story differently. In John’s account, Andrew and another disciple, encouraged by John the Baptist, are first to follow after Jesus. Andrew then goes off to find his brother Simon, and announces to him that they “have found the Messiah.” “He brought Simon to Jesus,” the gospel writer tells us, who then welcomed him and gave him his new name, Peter (Jn 1:40-42).

In Christian memory, Andrew lives in the shadow of his older brother, Simon Peter. While Peter is portrayed as the primary spokesman for the twelve and one of Jesus’ closest friends, Andrew stands off to the side or in the background. Though he is always named in the list of the disciples, he does not become part of Jesus’ “inner ring”– only Peter, James and John receive that distinction.

But the brief mentions that are made of Andrew are both revealing and endearing. At one point in John’s gospel, two strangers come to Philip, asking that they be allowed to see Jesus. Philip tells Andrew, and together they bring the two men to Jesus’ attention (Jn 12:20-22). The two men are Greek, and it seems here that Andrew’s unassuming, faithful action helps set the stage for a ministry of Jesus that would move beyond the confines of Judaism to reach so many of us who are Gentiles by birth. There is another scene remembered, where there is a huge crowd who have gathered around Jesus out in the countryside. They are hungry for Jesus’ words of life; they are also hungry for lunch, desperately hungry. It is Andrew who, among the thousands of people, finds a little boy with loaves of bread and fish to spare and share (Jn 6:8-9).

As with so many of us, God’s call to Andrew seems to come as a “call within a call.” The primary vocation, of course, is to be a follower of Jesus. Andrew lays down his nets in obedience to the call of Jesus, and follows him. But within that call, another call seems to take shape, a vocation that is especially Andrew’s, and that reveals to us some of who he was and what he came to be as a follower of Jesus. Though his older brother Peter outshines him in almost every respect, Andrew seems to have been given a unique ministry – a “ministry of introduction,” we might say. His particular role seems to be that of pointing to the One who is the Way, and then getting out of the way. He introduces Peter to Jesus. He brings the two Greek men to Jesus. He brings the small boy with bread and fish to Jesus.

It is impossible to know whether Andrew had to deal with the kinds of “developmental issues” that inform the psyche of us who live in western society in the 21 st century. Did he feel inferior because of his less prominent role among the twelve? Might he have been conscious of his lack of training or formal education? Did he have to work through issues of jealousy or resentment towards those who were more prominent or polished? Did he have trouble finding his own voice? We don’t know this about Andrew. But we do know it about ourselves. And amidst all the competition of this society in which we live – so consumed with success, recognition and achievement – Andrew’s is a refreshing witness. He obviously knew that Jesus called him – not who he could have been or maybe felt he should have been, but him . And Andrew said okay, and followed, and brought others to follow as well. Andrew seems to characterize those words of John the Baptist, spoken in reference to Jesus: “He must increase, and I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). Or the words of St Paul, who claimed that “what we preach is not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake.” (Rom 4:5). St Andrew wanted others to see Jesus , not himself. He was the servant who ushered them into the presence of the Master.

Whatever the particular role given to us, whatever our unique vocation turns out to be, it is always a vocation of service. We preach not ourselves, but Jesus Christ. We serve not our own interests, but his. We seek not our own success, but only the fulfillment of the yearning of God for all persons and for all of creation. Jesus calls each of us to follow him. The particular way in which we follow will be an expression of who we are and of what we desire to become. This particular way of following will be a unique gift that we alone can offer back to God. Like Andrew, may we give ourselves unselfishly and humbly to that calling.

[1] The above quotations are taken from “Vocation,” a sermon by Archbishop Rowan Williams in A Ray of Darkness . (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1995), pp.147-149.

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2 Comments

  1. Christina on June 6, 2013 at 09:30

    Thank you, Br. David. This homily speaks to me – coming from the U.K. as a young girl with no real aspirations, happy to be a shorthand-typist, but I discovered that one had to BE something in North America. It’s a long story, but at the age of thirty I discovered, through teaching Sunday School, that there could be more. And, so it was, but I sometimes wonder what life would have been like had I not emigrated – would I have been content with my more simple life?
    Blessings. Christina

  2. DLa Rue on June 5, 2013 at 08:47

    Happy coincidence, today’s read-through placed me in the beginning of John as well. I was noticing Andrew, there, too….and the “come and see” refrain that echoes through that section.

    Adeste, fideles…

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