It can happen anywhere, at any time, to anyone. For Isaiah it was during a religious service in the temple, wrapped in incense and awe-inspiring ritual. For certain Galileean fishermen, it was when they were going about their normal, everyday lives, casting and catching, cleaning and communing. With Paul, it was when he was in an angry turmoil, dead set against the new movement of Jesus-followers, determined to keep them from ruining the tradition. The call to mission, accompanied by God’s transforming grace, can strike at any moment.
What always happens when one experiences a call from God is that the immensity of the divine holiness is overpowering. In the face of God’s unparalleled goodness, graciousness and mercy, our own inadequacies and sinfulness loom all the larger. “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips,” exclaims Isaiah. “Depart from me, for I am a sinner,” implores Peter. “I am not fit to be called an apostle,” insists Paul. God, however, is never deterred by such protestations. The mission is never dependent upon the worthiness of the minister but upon God’s grace.
If people kept their focus on their own inabilities and shortcomings, the work of God would never be accomplished. It is when Isaiah lets the seraphim direct his attention away from his unworthiness and toward God’s holiness that he then experiences the purging of his sin and the interior freedom to say, “Here I am, send me!” When Peter lets go of his certainty that nothing can be caught and relinquishes his fear at what Jesus is asking of him, then he can let himself be seized by grace to bring all his skills to be employed in Jesus’ mission.
When Paul accepts that it is by the grace of God that he is what he is, and when he surrenders all that he is to God’s power, then he can say that God’s “grace to me has not been ineffective.” The effectiveness of this amazing grace is evident not only in the personal transformation each one experiences, but in the sharing of that transformative power with all who are open to hear.
When one is seized by grace, the gifts and skills one already has are often put to a different use under Christ’s direction. One can imagine Peter’s reluctance to follow Jesus’ suggestion to put out into the deep water, when he and his companions had been hard at it all night without any reward. Why should pros like them listen to Jesus? It is when they can take the sage advice of trying things a different way under Jesus’ direction that the grace comes.
While the story of the call of the women disciples Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna and their companions (Lk 8:1-3) is not preserved in the New Testament, one can speculate about the ways in which they had to reorient their lives, as they channeled their money and other resources to the Jesus movement. What obstacles would they have had to overcome, such as disapproval by spouses, family, and friends, to dedicate their resources to the Christian mission? These obstacles were no match for the power of grace within them.