There is a Hebrew word, qara (pronounced kaw-raw), that is similar to the English word calling, but its definition is a bit more capacious. It means to be called, to be invited and to be named. This ancient Jewish understanding of calling, the one with which Jesus was familiar, was like an invitation into a certain way of living, being, and acting in the world.
In ancient Israel, to be called wasn’t only a summons to a task, but an invitation for everything to change: relationships, spiritual life, core identity, and work in the world. The modern understanding of calling in our society tends to focus on career, jobs, and work in the world, which are certainly important and have their place. But in addition to outward forms of engagement, calling is also an inner process, something that is undergone.
To be called is to be invited within as well as without.
In addition to an invitation to an inner and outer way of being in the world, qara also relates to being named. Jesus’ own calling into ministry officially began with his baptism by John in the Jordan River. The text in Luke reads, “Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; and a voice came out of the heavens: ‘You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.’” (Luke 3: 21-22).
This was the moment when God publicly called Jesus and his kingship was officially announced. Before beginning his three year ministry of healing, preaching, and teaching about the Kingdom of God, Jesus was named the beloved. God said, “I love you. I am pleased with you. You are my beloved child.”
It is easy to forget that Jesus, fully human like each of us, had the deep need to hear and accept that he was loved, to know his Father approved of him. He needed to hear these words that named the core truth of who he was, his deepest identity.
So much of our identity rests on the particular ways we have been named.
Who we know ourselves to be is largely based on what others have told us about who we are. That is the single biggest factor in how we form identity. Being named beloved was a significant part of Jesus’ identity formation.
In calling Jesus to his life’s work and destiny as Messiah, God could have said, “You are my Son. Do the work you are here to do faithfully” or “You will be tested greatly and suffer immensely in the task set before you” or “Persevere when you are tempted to turn from my will.”
But God didn’t say those things to Jesus. God didn’t tell him what to do or how to live out his calling. Instead, God named him.
Calling always involves being named.
An accurate identity rooted in being loved and accepted was crucial for Jesus—like it is for each of us. It is what every person needs to hear in their identity formation, which is what underlies all the choices we make and how we choose to live and participate in the world—what a person chooses to do is an outpouring of their identity.
When we hear the Voice say, “This is who you are, my son, my daughter who I love, my child who I am pleased with,” assures us of our primary identity as the beloved of God. From that identity, we enter into ministry and mission.
Qara leads us into a journey, both inward and outward, that is meant to be a catalyst for mutual transformation of the self and the other. The call to ministry, mission and justice work is the call to allow something to be birthed not only through us, but within us.
What is your experience of being called, of being named? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Are you wrestling with calling, with what mission and justice work mean for you and your life? As a spiritual director, I walk with people who are asking hard questions and exploring their souls, their hearts, their role in ministry. I’d love to connect with you on a personal level about working together. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ryankuja.com/spiritual-direction