So Jesus famously called Peter, Andrew, James and John (Matthew 4:18-21), fishermen all four—called them to fish for people. And fishing (largely a negative metaphor in the Old Testament—associated predominantly with judgment) became an image of discipleship.
God called Moses (Exodus 3:1-9) and David (1 Samuel 16:11-13). Both worked as shepherds and became shepherds of their people—of God’s people. As shepherds both knew first hand (a) just how stupid sheep could be, and (b) just how important each sheep was. David wrote songs, and one of the most famous cast God as the good shepherd (Psalm 23). Amos was also a shepherd, and a dresser of sycamore trees too (Amos 7:14), and along with sheep and sheperds, sowers and harvesters and farmers and trees are all stock images in the language of faith.
Jesus called Matthew as a disciple. Matthew was a tax collector (Matthew 9:9-13). No neat word play here. Jesus doesn’t say, “You collect taxes from people in the name of Rome, and they hate you. Now you’ll collect taxing people in my name and love them.” But—but there was Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-9) who, before encountering Jesus, collected money and made his profits and was rich, and who, after encountering Jesus, seeking to follow Jesus, gave away half the money he had collected to the poor and presumably went into debt paying back anyone he had cheated times four … and was even more rich!
God called Ruth, listed in Matthew’s account of David and Jesus’ genealogy (Matthew 1:5)—God called Ruth though God’s not really that much of an explicitly named player in the book of Ruth. More immediately, Ruth was actually called by her family, her husband’s family, and followed her mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Naomi’s home, where Ruth was both widow and alien (Ruth 1:4-5, 15-17), and somehow, within the economy of our faith, the alien, the outsider, the one without a voice—without power—without resources, is consistently privileged in the eyes of God and in the eyes of God’s people … though sometimes—too often—just in the eyes of God.
The angel of the Lord came to sit under the oak (you may not have known that even angels enjoy sitting in the shade of a great oak)—the angel of the Lord came to sit under the oak and watch Gideon threshing wheat (somewhat disconcerting, don’t you think? that angels might particularly enjoy sitting in the shade of an oak watching someone else hard at work in the sun!). Gideon was threshing wheat in the wine press to hide it from the enemy, and it was while watching Gideon at work that God called Gideon (Judges 6:11-12). Hard work. Beating the wheat to separate the wheat from the chaff so it can then be ground into flour to make bread. And separating the wheat from the chaff becomes an image of judgment. And bread’s an image of sustenance and life. But Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress—it’s another judgment image—the process of crushing and transforming the grapes, but the story also poses the implicit question, where else do we find the imagery of bread and wine combined into a promise of calling and deliverance (Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26; Luke 22:1-20)?
Jesus called a man who was called a zealot as a disciple (Luke 6:15)—a man whose level of (probably political) commitment and zeal brought that dimension of passion to the idea of discipleship. “Come follow me, you who understand zeal, and let me give you something about which to be zealous. Let me give you something worth every ounce of your passion and commitment. And please—please don’t waste such precious gifts on anything less. Always measure your zeal against my way of living and loving and dismiss any call to yoke zeal to violence, to any ways of relating that do not celebrate any individual’s dignity and surpassing value to God.”
God called Samuel, a child who didn’t understand what was happening, who had to be told who was calling him (1Samuel 3:1-9). He needed someone he trusted to name God within his own experience. And throughout Scripture, children stand out as models whenever God teaches God’s people about being God’s people, “and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6). “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18:17), and maybe it has something to do with understanding that we don’t understand.
God called Paul, a known and feared enemy to the people of God, not given up on though, believed in until he believed (Acts 9:1-6), then called to minister to those who feared and despised him and more gracefully committed to God’s future than to his own past. And the redemptive grace of the story—the transformative initiative—extends through all the ages since—the story of enmity overcome and a new story embraced.
God called Jonah, who knew and feared the enemy of the people of God, not given up on though, worked through until others believed (Jonah: oh, just read the whole book; it’s short!), called to minister to those whom he feared and despised, but more grumpily committed to that traditional enmity than to the steadfast love of the gracious and merciful God (Jonah 4:2). And his grouchy rejection of God’s redemptive grace—God’s transformative intiative—extends through all the ages since—the story of enmity overcome and a new story resisted.
God called Jacob, the Trickster, who tricked his father (Genesis 27:18-29), who tricked his brother (Genesis 27:34-41), who tricked his uncle (Genesis 30:25-43). And we’re invited to see through this Trickster the God who celebrates the unexpected—who delights in overturning the world’s priorities and expectations—whose tricks though are never designed to exploit or take advantage of, but to gift—to grace—to transform and redeem. It should come as no surprise to us to find out, if we didn’t know, that the Trickster, the one whose name means “the one who supplants,” is renamed in and through his experience of God—renamed, somewhat ambiguously, either “he strives with God”—“he persists with God”—”he perseveres with God” or “God strives—God persists—God perseveres” (Genesis 32:22-32). And maybe it’s within the truth of both ways of hearing that new name that the one who time and time again supplanted someone else and had to run away, ends up, by the grace of God, planting a people rooted in God—at home wherever they are with God with them.
God called Joseph—pampered, coddled Daddy’s favorite—proud recipient of the multicolored symbol of his father’s particular love for him (Genesis 37:2-4)—bold proclaimer—arrogant, conceited, vain, smug, condescending, supercilious, snobbish, pompous, overbearing, haughty, big-headed, stuck-up, uppity, snooty proclaimer of dreams in which everything—everything and everyone—revolved around him (Genesis 37:5-11)—God called Joseph, the spoiled brat, who nonetheless matured and gives hope to all of us who still have some maturing to do.
God called Stephen though it doesn’t say that in Scripture. Rather, we read, the apostles, recognizing a need in the community of faith, ask the community to identify individuals among them who might address these particular needs. Stephen’s chosen by the people as an administrator. He’s called by the community—commissioned by the community—to administer a community program providing food for widows and orphans (Acts 6:1-6). Then we read that Stephen, full of grace and power, full of numbers and addresses and maps, spreadsheets, spectacles and a pocket protector, did great wonders and signs among the people (Acts 6:8). It’s the language of Jesus describing a nerd whose gifts were dedicated to God.
God called Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-8)—first Isaiah—proto-Isaiah (don’t get me started!), the nobleman who knew priorities beyond the royal court. God called this polished, refined man of words—of education and imagination who consistently discovered that his best attempts to express his faith and his experience of God could embrace all his brilliance and thus gave us some of the most powerful and enduring images and metaphors and concepts of our faith tradition—who also inspired second (or deutero) and third (or trito) Isaiah as the power of one individual was absorbed into a tradition so much more than one.
God called Abram and Sarai—Abram the son responsible for his father Terah (a little complicated here, you have to combine some verses and do some math: here’s the logic: (1) Terah, Abram’s dad, was seventy when he had his three sons [Genesis 11:26]; (2) one of his sons died, and of the two surviving sons, he only took Abram from Ur to Haran [Genesis 11:28, 31]; (3) Abram was seventy-five when he left Haran [Genesis 12:4]; (4) Terah lived to be two hundred and five [Genesis 11:32]; (5) so Terah was one hundred and forty-five when Abram and Sarai left, living another sixty years after his son—the son who was traditionally duty bound to support him in his old age—living another sixty years after that son left him)—Abram and Sarai, responsible to and for Terah, nonetheless obedient to God, left Haran, left father, left family responsibility, obedient to God, not knowing where they were going—trusting God (Genesis 11:26; 12:1-4). And Abram and Sarai incarnate the archetypal call that transcends all other priorities—legitimate, important priorities. “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). They manifest the relationship that trusts the guide and not the gps—that trusts the journey will lead us to the destination.
And it’s not that these Scriptural examples were all called because what they did would happen to make a good metaphor. They weren’t called because who they were—how they were—would make for a good lesson. It’s rather more that God will take whatever we do and whoever we are and transform us—the particulars of us—into a metaphor for God’s own work. God will take whatever you do—whoever you are—and transform you—the particulars of you—into a metaphor for God’s own work.
May it (careful now!) be so ….