How Jesus embraced his call
God called Jesus into his vocation, sometimes through people such as Bartimaeus, the blind man Jesus healed. Bartimaeus named Jesus’ role and relationship to the community. (Photo: Knut Dahl on Flickr)
ART, HOMILIES, AND BOOKS about Jesus rarely explore what it might have been like to be a human being exploring the vocation to be the unique son of God incarnate. The author of the Book of Hebrews in Chapter 5, verses 4-6 tells us that Jesus did not take his vocation on himself, but was called by God.
How did Jesus know to what God had called him? We hear in scripture of two great epiphanies: one when John baptized Jesus, the other on the mountain of the Transfiguration. Yet, in each, Jesus heard only that he was God’s own son—the same thing God had said to Israel. How then, did Jesus know who he was called to be and what he was called to do?
There are some clues in other stories in the Bible. The story of Bartimaeus is the last healing described in Mark’s gospel. In the first healing, in Mark 1:21-28, Jesus expelled an evil spirit who called him “Jesus of Nazareth … the holy one of God.” What a title! It was perfectly designed to engender pride without demanding anything in the way of love. When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, he called him “Son of David,” a title that recalled the vocation of a shepherd king, the person responsible to care for God’s flock. The demons tempted Jesus with status, Bartimaeus begged for action.
As Mark tells it, Bartimaeus kept calling out to Jesus. Over and over again he asked for mercy, using the Greek word we use when we sing “Kyrie eleison” [Lord, have mercy]. Eleison-mercy does not seek alms or sympathy, but rather a powerful sort of solidarity; it’s a mercy that impels one to act on behalf of someone who needs help. While the crowd tried to silence Bartimaeus, Jesus told them to call him forward. Then, investing the beggar with all the dignity of an honored client, Jesus invited him to speak for himself and say exactly what he wanted. Without hesitation Bartimaeus answered, “Rabboni, I want to see.”
And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage; get up, he is calling you.” He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way (Mark 10:46-52).
There, in front of the disciples and surrounding crowds, Bartimaeus had pronounced his creed. He called Jesus of Nazareth the Son of David, thus acknowledging his role in the history of their people. Calling him rabboni (translated as “master”), Bartimaeus, like Mary of Magdala in the garden, recognized Jesus as the highest-ranking teacher one could find.
By calling Jesus rabboni, Bartimaeus indicated that he was asking for more than eyesight, thus his dialogue with Jesus carries a variety of meanings. Jesus told Bartimaeus, “Go your way, your faith has saved you.” Mark explains that as a result, Bartimaeus made Jesus’ way his own; he joined Jesus on the road to Jerusalem where the cross and resurrection would reveal the true meaning of the titles Jesus bore.
There are other stories that reveal how Jesus came to know his calling. In the great revelations at his Baptism and on the mountain of the Transfiguration, Jesus heard himself called Son of God. He would learn how that role called him to overcome the demonic and fulfill the hopes of those who searched for God. Jesus embodied a threat to demonic powers: to all that trapped people in mental and physical illness, all that led authorities to act like dictators rather than shepherds, to all the egoism and self-protecting fear that can ambush even the best of people and lead them to disfigure themselves as images of their creator. People in need called Jesus forth as a Davidic shepherd leader. People who truly wanted to see called him forth as their rabboni. Jesus took on the titles of Son of God, Son of David, and rabboni as relational terms. These titles—his calling—had to do with their relationship with him and how they saw him within the community. As the Letter to the Hebrews says in 5:4-6, Jesus did not assume those roles, he was called into them.
Jesus was called by God through the people who responded to him. As the Son, he learned to act in the name of the God whose love cannot be imposed. What it was like to be Jesus was to be hopeful, generous, capable of much, but able to do only as much as others would accept from him. That is how he was Godlike.
The awesome truth of this is that we hold the power to allow Christ to be our shepherd king, our rabboni—or simply an image on a holy card. Bartimaeus moved from asking Jesus to be the healing shepherd king to allowing him to be the teacher who would lead Bartimaeus down the road to total self-giving.
As Christian disciples we, too, can ask the two questions that arise from Bartimaeus and in the Letter to the Hebrews: “Who do we allow God and Christ to be for us?” and “What does this call us to do?”
A version of this article appeared in the National Catholic Reporter. Reprinted by permission of NCR Publishing Company www.NCROnline.org.
- What Catholics believe about the Eucharist
- Prayer: Our never-ending conversation with God
- What the church is teaching—and learning—about the sin of racism
- Church defined: Jesus calls; we respond
- A Creed to believe in
- On whose authority?
- Ten great things about being Catholic
- Following Jesus: Be ready for some surprises
- Enter into the divine
- What Catholics believe about Jesus Read More
- Find your spirituality type quiz
- FAQs: Frequently asked questions about vocations
- Celibacy quiz: Can you live a celibate life?
- Resources for older discerners or those with physical and developmental differences
- About Vocation Network and VISION Guide