Do you remember when you were a child and you were with a group of neighborhood kids or classmates when you all decided to play a game? The first thing you did was choose sides. Do you remember that feeling of anxiety before someone chose you to be on their side? And do you remember feeling such relief and joy when you were chosen?
It isn’t surprising that children have all those feelings around being chosen. It’s important developmentally to be part of a group. Being chosen is affirming and is a sign that we’re valued and wanted by others.
But the joy that comes from being chosen isn’t just for children. For example, this past week the chairman of an organization asked me to take his place and lead a difficult meeting. When he asked me to do that, a good feeling of being chosen came to me. And honestly, being chosen did increase my confidence and energize me to do the assignment. I suppose I still need developmental nudges.
So, consider how this human dynamic of being chosen plays out for the followers of Jesus. We read that Jesus chose his successors by organizing his apostles into teams of two. He affirmed their abilities to follow in his footsteps. He must have had confidence that they would be able to do the same amazing healing work that he did. He gave them the awesome power of authority over unclean spirits. He sent them out into the world to preach repentance.
Of course, before all that commissioning happened, Jesus chose the apostles in the first place. The choosing seemed to happen randomly. As Jesus walked along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Andrew and Peter and said, “Follow me.” Others who were hanging around listening to him, he invited to “come and see.” He went to dinner at Mathias’ home, and the next thing you know, Mathias became his apostle, Matthew.
All of these seemed to be pretty casual invitations. But those invitations came across to the apostles as such a strong call that they left their work and their homes and completely changed their lives. They must have had a sense that Jesus’ invitation to them meant they were being chosen for something really compelling. But it was only a lot later — after the resurrection — that they realized what an amazing team they had been chosen for.
In his letters to the early Christians, St. Paul writes, “God chose us in Jesus, to be holy and without blemish.” And later he repeats: “We were chosen … and were sealed with the Holy Spirit.” Wow! We were chosen and sealed with the Holy Spirit! We were chosen to be on God’s team! How affirming and confidence-building is that?
But there’s more to this than the great feeling that comes from being chosen. In order to complete the circle, those who are chosen need to acknowledge the choice — and act on it. If not, the team is incomplete and the game can’t go on.
Imagine that, after Jesus chose them to go forth, all the two-man teams of apostles said, “Thank you, Jesus. It feels great that you’d give us those powers and send us forth to do your work. But we know people won’t accept us. We really can’t heal the blind and the deaf and the lame and drive out demons. You can do those things, but we can’t. We’ll just go on back to Galilee now. Goodbye.”
Imagine that, instead of writing as he did, St. Paul had written this: “Even though we were chosen and sealed in the Holy Spirit, we all decided that our lives are small and meaningless and totally unconnected from the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things. We give thanks for the vision of greatness, but we are not great.”
Saddest of all, imagine that, even though we have been chosen by God, even though we have been taught and commissioned by Jesus, and even though we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, we refuse to act with vision, power and the purpose that those choices bring us.
So let’s resolve to be the people God has chosen us to be. Let’s be hopeful and merciful, and work for justice and peace. Let’s gratefully and willingly join God’s team — and play the game of life with all our might.
— Mary Becker is a member of the Catholic Church of the Beatitudes, which meets at 5:30 p.m. Saturdays at First Congregational Church of Santa Barbara, 2101 State St. She is one of the homilists who shares her insights with the community at Mass. Click here for more information, or call 805.252.4105. Click here for previous columns.