What is a life “worthy of our calling” as followers of Jesus Christ? In the reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians (4:1-7), Saint Paul pleads with the Christians in Ephesus, “I, Paul, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
Think about this. The great Apostle is pleading with these Christians to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called,” and yet, what does this mean? Can any of us ever claim that we are living such a “worthy” life in Christ? Will any of us profess that our faith is strong enough and that we truly act as good and faithful followers of Jesus Christ, “worthy of the calling to which we have been called?”
It’s an interesting question with which we can challenge ourselves today, because we need to carefully think how to answer. If we say “YES, we are worthy” are we allowing our pride and ego to fool us? Do we think too highly of our own faithfulness in our walk with Christ? Who can say that they truly live a worthy life before God?!?
Yet, if we say “NO, we are not worthy” then are we not trusting in the grace of God to work in us and to transform our lives? Do we not believe that it is possible to live a life worthy of God, or are we simply too lazy and undisciplined in our spiritual lives? And will saying “no we are not worthy” lead us into laziness, complacency or despair?
Saint Paul is trying to encourage the Christians in Ephesus by exhorting them, “I BEG you, lead a life worthy of the calling.”
We need to realize that a life in Christ implies a life in tension between our spiritual potential and our actual life, between God’s grace and our shortcomings, between God’s faithfulness and our lack of faith. As Christians, we begin tasting and experiencing the kingdom of God as a present reality, yet we also understand the fulfillment of this kingdom will not be realized completely until the second coming of Christ. Thus, we live in spiritual tension.
Maybe we can better understand this by looking at the example in a Gospel story when Jesus encounters a faithful rich ruler. This rich man tells our Lord that he has been faithful in following the commandments of God throughout his life. He has done all the right things according to the law, yet Jesus wants to help this young man realize that one can never think of themselves as good. We must take care never to think we’ve done enough. Christ goes on to shock this faithful man by challenging him to sell all that he has so he can give to the poor, and then to leave everything and follow Him. The faithful rich ruler puts his head down in shame and turns away from Jesus. He’s not willing to make such a complete commitment, and thus, he walks away.
The disciples can’t believe what they just witnessed and are even more perplexed to hear Jesus say, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of heaven. For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” They stand utterly confused, and meekly ask, “Who then can be saved?” To which Jesus assures, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.”
This story reveals the tension of our spiritual journeys. God expects us to follow the commandments and to live a life in Christ, yet even if we do all we can and strive to live according to God’s ways, we still must not put our trust in ourselves, but realize our only hope is in the mercy and grace of God. This is the spiritual tension we must embrace.
There is a beautiful story in the life of Abba Sisois, one of the great desert fathers. He laid on his death bed with all his disciples gathered around him. Death was often a public event among the desert fathers and many disciples gathered around Sisois to watch the final moments of his saintly life. As they watched and waited, they heard Abba Sisois talking to someone, and they asked, “Who are you talking with?” To which the holy monk responded, “I’m talking to the angels. I’m asking them to give me more time.”
“Why,” they asked him?
“I’m asking them to give me more time to repent.”
The disciples looked perplexed. “We know you are holy, father. You don’t need to repent.”
To which he replied, “Surely, I don’t know within myself if I have even begun to repent.” Then his face lights up and he says, “The Lord has come.” And he dies with radiant light shining from his face.
Abba Sisois’ extreme humility combined with his desire for more time to repent reveal his holiness. He exemplifies this spiritual tension we are to live throughout our lives.
God calls us to live lives of holiness, yet such holiness teaches us of the continual need to repent. God calls us to follow all of His commandments yet to realize we can still do more, even to the point of giving all we have to the poor and following Christ. God calls us to understand that no matter how much we achieve in our spiritual journeys, it is impossible to enter the kingdom of God without solely trusting in God’s grace and mercy.
Remember, the cry of the father with the epileptic son? When he came to Jesus for help, our Lord asked him, “Do you believe I can do this?” to which the father responded, “I believe, help my unbelief.” We need to make this prayer our own. “I trust You, Lord. Help me where I am weak.” Or as Saint Paul came to realize, “Your grace is sufficient for me. For your strength is made perfect in my weakness.”
This paradox of attitudes reflects the spiritual tension we are called to hold in our lives. This tension reflects an attitude of trusting solely in God’s loving mercy, not in our own actions. And yet, we still must “work out our salvation,” as the great Apostle tells us. We struggle to follow the Lord, yet we constantly trust and understand in God’s grace. Saint Paul clarifies that a life worthy of our calling means living a life in “lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, maintaining a spirit of unity and peace.”
May we “lead a life worthy of our calling” – a life in Christ. This implies trusting in His mercy and grace yet working out our salvation through lives of humility and meekness, with patience and love toward one another and ourselves, always reflecting the peace of God to all we encounter.