In my one-to-one conversations with people who seek to discern God’s calling for their lives, I always feel a rush of surprise when I hear true vocational insight. One man shared with me his recent discovery: “Vocation is not work. Vocation is belonging to Jesus.”
Vocation is belonging to Jesus—indeed. “We are branded,” St. Teresa of Avila once wrote, “branded with His sign. It is the sign of the Cross, in token that we have given Him our freedom.”
Vocation—first and ultimately—is about relationship, not between equals, but a relationship of mutuality nonetheless. A relationship of mutual servanthood. If you remove this extraordinary and completely self-involving relationship with Jesus from your life’s equation, there’s no reason, really, to get out of bed in the morning, no reason to embrace the new day. And ultimately, when you don’t “belong to Jesus,” you have no way to recognize, much less fully live, your anointing in the Holy Spirit.
But what does this mean, “belonging to Jesus”? Does it mean being baptized, confirmed, and essentially identifying with life in the church? My membership at the gym could look the same and demand even more of my effort. But such “belonging” hardly meets the vocational threshold of real, generous, wholehearted engagement in a relationship of eternal worth.
Belonging to Jesus requires—demands, really—an unimaginable generosity. This was Jesus’ message to the rich young man. This young man, well situated no doubt in a culture of entitlement which generational wealth often brings, understood the language of “inheritance.” So he approached this fascinating and charismatic Teacher and asked him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” His question reveals an expectation of easy acquisition that may come close to some of our own deepest yearnings.
But the young man’s “inheritance” question evokes from Jesus a “relationship” answer that is all about vocation: “Go sell your possessions, give your wealth to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come, follow me” (see Mark 10:17-31 and parallels in Matthew and Luke). Get out of relationship with your stuff, Jesus could have said; get into relationship with the world of the poor. Then you’ll be following me.
Let your wealth be your bridge to the poor? We think of wealth as being a bridge to opportunity, to climbing higher and acquiring even more. Downward mobility today does not sound like a smart choice. Yet these words come from One who did not deem equality with God as something to be grasped at. Rather, he emptied himself, and took the form of a slave (see Philippians 2:6-7). Jesus’ words to the young man were so daunting that even Peter and the other disciples were shaken (see Mark 10:24ff).
So let’s return to that insight—that vocation is not work but belonging to Jesus. How silly of us to wonder what our “vocation” might be, what work we should do, what job we should take, or how we should live our lives when our job ends or when our work, or our ability to work, vanishes. Jesus addresses such anxieties head-on. “Seek first the kingdom of God,” he says. Participate, in other words, in that revelation of God’s great good through the life you live and the work you do. “And all these things shall be yours as well” (see Matthew 6:25-34).
Belonging to Jesus can never be a half-hearted thing. Nor can we expect such belonging to be convenient. Jesus challenges one of his adversaries: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart” (Mark 12:28-30). Wholeheartedness and only wholeheartedness in service to the Gospel, in service to Jesus, can open the door of vocation.
God’s invitation is everywhere; God’s calling is unstoppable. But you have to belong to Jesus, with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength, to make sense of the invitation.
Copyright 2013 Mary Sharon Moore, M.T.S.