Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tuesday in the Twentieth Week of Ordinary Time
The Calling of Ducks and Sheep

Readings: Judges 2:11-19; 6:11-24; Psalm 84:9, 11-14; Matthew 19:16-30
Picture: cc Reinout van Rees

I once visited a small farm at feeding time and saw a woman feeding her ducks. Carrying a basin of food, she walked out into her yard and started calling in a loud voice. At the sound, all the ducks started waddling over to where she stood. And she fed them from the basin. All the ducks responded to one and the same sound, the very same call.

Sometimes I think that this must also be how God calls us as well. After all, in John 10, doesn’t Jesus refer to himself as the Good Shepherd, and to us as the sheep who listen to his call? I imagine that the calling of sheep would not be much different from that of ducks. One and the same call going out to the whole flock. But is this really true?

Our readings today tell us otherwise. Especially if we include the previous day’s readings, which we missed because we celebrated the Solemnity of the Assumption. When read together, the readings of yesterday and today present us with accounts of two people receiving calls from God. There is Gideon in the first reading, and the unnamed man in the gospel. Two people in very different circumstances, receiving very different calls.

Consider first the man in the gospel. We’re told that he was very wealthy in more ways than one. He was rich not just materially, but morally as well. For he claims to have kept all the commandments. In addition, he was also rich in self-confidence. He comes to Jesus, not to ask the Lord for help but only for instruction. He doesn’t ask the Lord to give me life, but only to tell me what I can do to gain life. He’s quite sure that he can do what is required.

To such a person, Jesus responds by issuing a call to poverty and self-emptying. Go and sell what you own... and come follow me. In other words, get rid not just of your material wealth, but also of your self-reliance. You cannot save yourself. Trust only in me. Follow me!
Contrast that with the call of Gideon. We’re not sure of Gideon’s material circumstances, but what we do know is that he was poor in power. Gideon was a member of an oppressed people. He was afraid of the Midianites, who were carrying away his people’s crops. In addition Gideon was also poor in self-esteem and in self-confidence. He claims that he is the least important member of his family, and his clan is the weakest in Manasseh. He feels helpless in the face of the marauding Midianites, and has long been waiting for God to save his people. But his hope is fast fading.

To such a poor person as Gideon, God responds in a strikingly different manner from the way Jesus deals with the man in the gospel. Instead of calling for greater humility and self-effacement, God calls Gideon to stop waiting for God to do something, but to take courage and to act on his people’s behalf. Not only that, God actually tells Gideon to tap into the righteous anger that he is feeling at his people’s plight. Go in the strength now upholding you, God says. I will be with you and you shall crush Midian. In contrast to the rich man, who is called to empty himself of his wealth, Gideon is asked to exploit the inner resources that God has already given him.

Two men experiencing God’s call in two very different ways. All of which brings us back to the call of the Good Shepherd to his sheep. Is the calling of sheep really similar to the calling of ducks? Do we all receive the same call, in exactly the same way? Not quite. For in John 10:3, Jesus says that the Good Shepherd calls his sheep one by one. In another translation, he calls his sheep by name. Each one experiences a unique call.

How is God calling you today?

1 comment:

  1. These analogies somehow puts me into a spot. To decide whether one is more into the Duck or the sheep category is like choosing to be roasted or be barbecued.
    Just as bad to be fed or deprived and end up being a fat duck (the rich young man), or the diffident sheep (Gideon). The competing attentions of the world wreck havoc with our direction finder.
    Your sermon makes me uncomfortable. I may have to declare sheepishly that my lifestyle is more like that of a duck. In the hustle and bustle of daily living, I must remember the Jesuit call to find God in all things, not just in the transient.


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