Last week I joined some clergy in having tea with Archbishop Thabo at his home at Bishopscourt – the oldest private residence in South Africa. When he came to greet me he seemed a little unhappy. He proceeded to put down his tea, remove his dog collar (the white detachable collar that clerics wear) and place it on me. He said it’s about time that it happened, and pointed at his head, alluding to the growing grey hair.
That was a significant moment for me. Although I’m not yet ordained, he demonstrated in a rather tangible way his appreciation for my ministry. While some bureaucracy might have temporarily stumped the process, he was able to bring encouragement to my calling.
There is a curious incident in the narrative of the calling of the first disciples. Nathanael is one of them, and Jesus says two significant things to him. Firstly, on seeing Nathanael approaching him, he said: “Look, a genuine Israeli, in whom there is no deceit!” Understandably shocked, Nathaniel responds by asking Jesus how he knew him. Rather enigmatically Jesus replies: “Before Philip called you, while you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” (John 1).
This is where we need to use some imagination. What on earth is Jesus referring to – what happened under the tree? Perhaps Nathaniel recalled vividly the scenario of weeks (or years!) before when he:
had stood raging against the world (and God) under a tree, asking God if He noticed him
or, Nathaniel lay exasperated and exhausted under the tree and told God that he was giving up and couldn’t go on
or, he had a sense to do something significant for God, but needed to know for certain he was being called – and asked to hear directly from God
or, _______________ (fill in your own)
The thing I find remarkable about this story is that even though Nathanael didn’t even know it, his calling began earlier than he thought it did. What proceeds a moment of calling, or the actualisation therefore, is also important. The Arch’s little demonstration at his home – and his words of gratitude for my ministry showed that even though what I thought was the desired outcome maybe hadn’t been achieved, I, like Nathanael, was noticed and my identity and calling known.
And so for those who are in waiting – there is value and recognition in the waiting – for our calling doesn’t start with being called, but long before that (Ephesians 2:10). Sometimes also, the dreams that we had ‘under the tree’ – and thought were long forgotten – can be called out and the invitation given to step into them.