Have you noticed the now endless stream of news items about all the people in our world who are chronically unemployed, hungry, homeless, the critically ill who are falling through the safety net, utterly bereft of hope? But lacking sufficient resources, we cannot really help.
And while each story sounds like “news,” I begin to sense that these are the same folks who followed Jesus everywhere, the great untidy throng looking for a savior. So I did some research.
Sure enough. This throng followed Jesus on foot (free transportation); they brought the sick with them (Jesus had compassion and healed them); and after three days they were without food. They were “like sheep without a shepherd.”
The throngs we encounter today, in our big cities and rural towns, also may be arriving on foot, sick, hapless, depleted of resources and dignity, bereft of hope. This is not news, it’s a pernicious reality, a grim reminder of how far off we still are from the reign of God.
Therein lies the invitation, vocational to the core. “Give them some food yourselves,” Jesus says to his disciples (Matthew 14:16; Mark 6:37; Luke 9:13).
And therein lies the news, the kind of scoop reporters usually only dream of. These disciples, themselves hapless in the face of Jesus’ impossible invitation, scrounge together the five loaves and two fish they’ve been holding onto among themselves, and hand them over. Lunch, food security, sacrificed just like that, at the Master’s request.
Jesus then does the next obvious thing. Matthew, Mark, and Luke report: “Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples,” who in turn gave them to the crowd.
Let’s pause for a moment, and zoom in on our understanding of vocation today. One key step in discerning what God desires you to do with your life is simply this: Do the next obvious thing. No matter how paltry your giftedness or skill or experience or even your education might be, do the next obvious thing. The next courageous thing. The next generous thing. Give God something to work with.
In that moment of blessing, Jesus stepped forward in faith—in faith, not in some kind of divine magic—in response to human need. The vocational moment, for Jesus, lay in his Father’s invitation and in his own generous response.
The anawim—the utterly dispossessed—are still with us, as Jesus promised they would be. And the divine invitation, vocational to the core, is still being issued to the likes of you and me. Not just to be generous with resources we can count and quantify, but to actually step out and respond to real human need in faith.
Immediately following the accounts of Jesus’ feeding the five thousand, we find the disciples in the boat, at night, in a storm. And Jesus approaches them on the water. Matthew’s account gives us another vocation-as-invitation moment. Peter blurts out: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (Matthew 14:28). Jesus issues the one-word invitation: “Come” (v. 29). And for one brief moment Peter so trusts the invitation and the One who has issued it that he hefts the whole weight of his being into his response.
Freeze that image. That’s the newsworthy piece, complete with accompanying photo: Peter, with eyes fixed in fierce and absolute trust on his Lord, responding to the invitation with no thought to calculate the physical impossibility.
You and I were never anointed to do merely what makes sense. In his own time Jesus understood the real needs of real people—for food, for healing, for teaching and encouragement, and for redemption. Those real needs continue today. “You’re it,” Jesus says to us. “I have shown you how it’s done and given you my Spirit. Now it’s your turn.”
Copyright 2012 Mary Sharon Moore, M.T.S.