Vocation – Br. Jim Woodrum
After I first arrived at the monastery almost two years ago, I remember taking a bus out of South Station up to Emery House to spend a Sabbath. As we were pulling out of the station, I looked out of the window at the surrounding city scene and time seemed to freeze for a moment and a question popped into my mind: How did a music teacher from East Tennessee, who has lived his whole life in the south, and who had ambitions of travelling and performing end up in the greater Boston area testing a vocation as a monk? How in the world did I get from there to here? Have you ever had one of those moments….when life became so large, so incredibly vivid that you had to ask, “Is this real?” And then life’s “play” button is pressed and you forge ahead as you were, perhaps a little overwhelmed at the notion of actually retracing your steps to that moment, and it fades unresolved. Yet you know that you just had a glimpse of something larger than life and you have to settle with the idea that time will bring clarity and you’ll eventually understand.I can’t help but to think that this is how the disciples felt in today’s gospel lesson. The gospel writer of Matthew says Jesus was teaching, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing all sorts of people with all sorts of diseases. He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Then Jesus said to his disciples: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” And he gives the disciples authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and sickness. These men were a diverse bunch, who all had careers, families, dreams and ambitions. Now they were living in community with one another, following an itinerant rabbi, and they themselves had become healers. Did they ever have to stop for a moment and pinch themselves?
One of my favorite windows in this chapel that I like to pray with is the last of the three in St. John’s Chapel which depicts fishermen mending their nets (probably James, John, and their father, Zebedee) and Jesus standing on the shore beckoning them to follow him. In the first chapter of Mark we hear: As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.[i] We know that Matthew was a tax collector, one who collected money for the Roman occupiers and then collected a little extra to pad his own wallet. These were livelihoods but not necessarily vocations. The word vocation comes from the latin ‘vocare’ which means: to call. But I think the livelihoods of these men were eventually used by Jesus in the context of vocation. We certainly know that Jesus and the disciples spent a lot of time by the sea and did a lot of fishing, and they used this skill to help feed those who were coming to them to hear their message and to be healed. Matthew may have stopped collaborating with the Roman regime but he brought a lot of people whom he had previously associated with to the table to experience Jesus as he had.[ii] In God’s economy, nothing is wasted, and he has a knack for using the gifts of the people he has called, although it may be in a way they never imagined.
So my question for you today is: What is your vocation? How is Jesus calling you beyond your livelihood to something deeper, larger, greater? How are you a bearer of the gospel, that is, the good news? If you’re not sure, then maybe that is an invitation for your prayer. That may be the very reason you’re here, sitting underneath these arches, gazing at the windows and wondering, “How in the world did I get from there to here?”
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