God’s Call to the Ministry: A Work of Grace
Numbers 17:5 And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout; thus I will put a stop to the complaints of the Israelites that they continually make against you.
The Israelites were complaining again and this time it was because they all wanted to be able to approach God at the tent of meeting. Why should only some have that privilege? They decided to grumble. They had no respect or reverence for the Priesthood — a foreshadowing of how the Jewish leaders would later treat Christ. They were also certain that Aaron’s ministry as a priest and that of the Levites was simply nepotism.
It was time to show the community that the calling of Aaron and the Levites was God’s calling. They had not chosen themselves to this vocation and it was not simply a voluntary offering. The calling to the ministry was a work of grace, revealed in the sprouting of Aaron’s rod. It was a work of grace in the Levites, but also for Christ. It is a heavenly calling for one to “suffer on behalf of sinners” and “offer gifts on behalf of sins,” and as Ambrose continues, “in this way even Christ did not claim the priesthood but received it.” (Letter 14, Extra Coll.)
There were many among the company of the Israelites who wanted the call to ministry. Somehow they felt that there was a privilege present and they wanted it. They did not see it as service in the kingdom, nor as God’s call, but as their own personal right and privilege to approach God. There was no understanding of the call as a work of grace.
There may be a temptation to border on this same behavior today. Unfortunately I’ve seen a real lack of respect for religious leaders. Now, there would be some who would say that they deserve it, and maybe some do — but do they all? I’m afraid that the sins of a few have created a very negative situation for those called to ministry as a whole. There seems to be very little distinction between those who are called and the laity and as a result the respect for the office of the ordained elder has slipped.
Aaron and his sons didn’t always get it right, but God still wanted to use them. It was a mystery and this was God’s grace at work. God is still in the business of calling children into ordained ministry and yes, it continues to be a mystery. We desperately need those who are willing to respond to the call. Aaron and his sons were willing to respond and serve and God called the people to treat them with respect.
We should respect the called leaders because we revere Christ. At the same time we must provide opportunities for them to serve Christ faithfully. Chrysostom tells us, “the priest or prophet promotes what is truly beneficial rather than what is merely enjoyable.” This is a work of grace and one that extends from the one who is called, to the congregation. Together we become the holy people of God.
Lord, thank you for the ministers who have shaped my life. Amen.