Having lived and ministered in the same area for 43 years I have come to know many individuals and families so I have made it a practice to read the obituaries each morning as a practice of remembrance and prayer. It seems lately that there are more long-lived people – centenarians even – who appear along with others tragically taken “before their time.” Often, when I read the entire entry of someone I recognize, I learn many things about lives that only touched mine as students or parishioners – interesting things about their occupations or other activities. The most common theme, regardless of age, is their love for their families and how their presence will be missed.
This morning the gospel of Mark continues the recitation of the call of the disciples but this time Jesus is not tapping fishermen for his followers but rather someone of unseemly credentials: the tax collector, Levi. It seems Jesus wants to prove a point, i.e. “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” As if that were not enough to ponder, the saint of the day is Antony of Egypt, a man who lived from the year 251 to 356! Yes, you read it correctly. He was 105 years old when he died in the 4th century! That’s certainly a good advertisement for the solitary life since Antony left the noisy, busy city life of Egypt for the desert around age 20 and is credited with much of early eremitic monastic development; many men (and women!) gathered in cells around Antony’s cave, influenced by his holiness.
Perhaps I’m stretching a point to think there is a connection in all this – long life or not, different occupations…but for me, it makes sense as I read this morning’s psalm refrain: Your words, O Lord, are Spirit and life!” We all hear God’s word in a particular way and, if listening deeply, find it to be “living and active” (HEB 4:12). Whether it leads to a busy life or the silence of a cave, and whether we are given long life or just a few short years, the call is ours. It may grow in us slowly or take us by surprise but, once heard, it must be followed all the way home.