Finding Your Identity in God’s Calling

January 31, 2016
First Reading: Jeremiah 1: 4-5, 17-19

Knowing who you are and what you are called to do is essential to pursuing God’s path for your life. Without a calling, a path, we do not know where to walk. A personal vocation crisis is an identity crisis. Not knowing what I am supposed to do leaves me not knowing who I am. But if I can learn, even in a partial, flimsy way, who I am, and can hear God’s call, even an indistinct way, then I can embrace the path and walk in it.

Jeremiah’s Calling

In this Sunday’s first reading from the beginning of Jeremiah, we find the prophet learning of his vocation. The line stands out:

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations. (Jer 1:5 RSV)

God’s direction for Jeremiah’s life originates in intimacy. His “appointment” flows from knowledge, God’s knowledge of him. When God says to him “I knew you,” we wonder what exactly this means. It cannot mean what we usually mean when we say “I know him” or “I knew her.” We are typically talking about knowing someone’s personality, his habits, his likes and dislikes. But a child in the womb doesn’t have these characteristics yet. Rather, God is speaking on a much deeper level. He knows Jeremiah in a way that only God can—a personal knowledge that doesn’t rely on secondary issues like quirks and habits, but reaches to the very soul of the man. It is the covenantal kind of knowing. Not only that, but God in his omniscience also knows everything Jeremiah will ever do or be. His knowledge comprehends all that Jeremiah is. Out of that intimate knowledge, God calls him. In fact, the verse describes God’s act with four verbs: I formed you; I knew you; I consecrated you; I appointed you. God appoints Jeremiah to be a prophet from the moment of his creation, even before he was born.

False Humility

In the following verse (which is omitted from our reading), Jeremiah demurs. Just like Moses had at first resisted the call of God, Jeremiah tells God “I am only a youth” (1:6 RSV). It is an excuse, not a reason. We too can fall prey to this kind of false humility. When the call seems too grand, when the responsibility seems too burdensome, when we are all too familiar with our own weaknesses, we can raise the white flag of cowardice while pretending to be virtuous. While Jeremiah at first refuses, God rejects his excuse: “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’” and “Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you” (1:7). God uncovers the truth—Jeremiah is ready and capable, just scared. While the boy’s response is not recorded, his vocation is confirmed when God “put out his hand and touched my mouth” (1:9). Then God kicks him out the door into the public square, telling him to get up, get dressed and start prophesying. And if the “carrot” of being God’s prophet isn’t enough, the Lord adds a stick: “Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them” (Jer 1:17 RSV – This line is sometimes mistranslated.)

The Personality of a Prophet

But what is God calling Jeremiah to do? To be a prophet doesn’t sound that bad. To be his appointed messenger would be nice, right? Wrong. God calls Jeremiah to be a prophet during the worst time in Judah’s history. Foreign nations are continually running over the city, capturing the king, and wreaking havoc. Jeremiah’s vocation will be to proclaim the message of God’s judgment on his unfaithful people. No one will listen to him. No one will honor him. He will not be “successful” in any worldly sense. He will cry out against the sins of the people, their idolatry, their duplicity, their oppression of the poor and their false-hearted hypocritical worship of God. His job as prophet will not be an easy one. He will be accused, put in the stocks, left to die in a muddy cistern, and kidnapped. To stand up under such pressure and to persevere in his holy vocation would take tremendous intestinal fortitude. Jeremiah is like a rock under pressure. He stares down his opponents and keeps on proclaiming the real word of God despite being opposed by false prophets and unfaithful priests, even kings. How does he do it?

Getting Backup from God

This is where God comes in. Jeremiah would have been right to be afraid of the mission if he had to do it on his own without God’s help. But God promises that his prophet will have divine backup:

And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the LORD, to deliver you. (Jer 1:18-19 RSV)

Everyone will be against Jeremiah, but God will be on his side. One plus God is a majority. Despite being opposed by kings and priests and the whole people, Jeremiah will stand firm because God is with him. God’s grace will support Jeremiah and God will protect Jeremiah from harm. In fact, despite the grave opposition to his life’s message, Jeremiah lives to old age and dies peacefully (though his death is not recorded in the Bible).

Though not all of us will be called to be public prophets who confront kings and have our lives threatened, we are each called to witness to the Gospel in our own lives. There may be times when we face opposition, when the message of Jesus is unwelcome, even when our help is refused. When we experience antagonism to the Gospel, we can return to the basics of our identity, our relationship with God, and his call on our lives. Like Jeremiah, perhaps we too can be “a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls.” When he kicks us out the door and into the mission field, his grace will not be in short supply if only we rely on it.


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Mark Giszczak (“geese-check”) was born and raised in Ann Arbor, MI. He studied philosophy and theology at Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, MI and Sacred Scripture at the Augustine Institute of Denver, CO. He recently received his Ph. D. in Biblical Studies at the Catholic University of America. He currently teaches courses in Scripture at the Augustine Institute, where he has been on faculty since 2010. Dr. Giszczak has participated in many evangelization projects and is the author of the blog. He has written introductions to every book of the Bible that are hosted at Dr. Giszczak, his wife and their daughter, live in Colorado where they enjoy camping and hiking in the Rocky Mountains.

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