Crazy, unexpected, risky vocations

Advent 4 – 2016

Matthew 1:18-25

Marian Free

In the name of God who sometimes asks us to do the improbable and the seemingly impossible. Amen.

Most of you will know of the Australian singer Jimmy Barnes. For many years, Barnes was known as much for his drug and alcohol-fueled excesses as he was for his music. It is easy to be critical and to lay the blame for his wild behavior on the rock’n’roll lifestyle, but when you know something of his story, you will recognize that he was running as fast as he could from his horrendous childhood and using alcohol and drugs to dull the memories and the pain.

Barnes has recently published an autobiography[1]. A promotional interview on the ABC gave a superficial insight to the horror and despair of Barnes’s childhood: the book reveals the real horror and the trauma of his early years. His father was a drinker. This meant that more often than not the family had no money for food, let alone clothes and other necessities and because his father drank, his parents constantly fought. When Jimmy was nine years old, his mother decided she had had enough. One morning she simply wasn’t there. Things went from bad to worse. The house fell into disrepair and the children ran wild – no food, no clothes, no bedding, no peace.

Two years later his mother returned with Reg and took the children to live with her.

Barnes’s story is compelling, but today I am more interested in Reg. Let me read to you the section that tells how Reg came into the family’s life.

“It seemed that the Child Welfare Agency had approached my mum and told her that we were going to be taken as wards of the state unless she could provide a safe home for us. So she must have been checking up on us.

Mum told us later that she had been sitting in a work friend’s house, crying about the situation when Reg Barnes walked in and asked: “What’s the trouble love?” He called everybody ‘love’. His mum and dad did the same.

She told him her story. I need to find mysel’ a husband and I need to find a home for me and ma six kids. And I need tae dae it quick or they’ll put the kids in a home.”

“Why did you leave them?”

“I had to run away because my husband was a bad drunk and now they’re being neglected by their father.”

“No worries love” he said, just like that. “ I’ll marry you.”

“Someone has to save those poor kids.”

He hadn’t met us at this point, but he didn’t give it another thought.”

Apparently, up until that point, Reg was going to be a priest, but he gave that up to take on a woman he barely knew and six children whom he had never met and who had been neglected and abandoned.

“No worries love, I’ll marry you.”

In my mind, this is the most extraordinary story – that a man would take on the care of another man’s children sight unseen. That he would provide a home and security simply to ensure that they were not taken into care. That he would marry their mother even though he didn’t know, let alone love her. Reg had no idea what trauma the children had suffered nor how easy or difficult parenting might be. He simply saw a need and stepped into the breach.

Joseph’s story is not too dissimilar – though according to Matthew – he had the help of an angel. All the same, he had to accept that the woman who was betrothed to him was expecting a child that was not his. The other “man” in this picture might have been God but Joseph would still have had to accept that his oldest son had not been fathered by him. He would have realised that the child would have none of his family characteristics – physical or otherwise – and he would have had no idea what to expect of the child. Who would know how a child of God would turn out! Presumably this was not how Joseph had imagined his life.

Joseph has already shown his compassion and tolerance by determining not to expose Mary to shame, so perhaps it was a small step to reverse his decision and “take” Mary to be his wife. We will never know. What we do know is that Joseph laid himself open to misunderstanding, shame and ridicule in order to respond to God’s call. He faced the uncertainty of not knowing what lay ahead and when the child was born he accepted the demands that Jesus’ true father placed on Jesus.

Vocations can take many forms and we are truly blessed if we feel that what we are doing with our lives is a God-given vocation. Whether it is cutting other people’s hair or delivering their children, building bridges or being an aid worker in Somalia, knowing that we are exactly where we are meant to be provides us with confidence and satisfaction. Responding to God’s call on our lives can sometimes mean being and doing the very best that we can with what God has given us. But, sometimes, randomly and completely out-of-the blue, God asks us to do crazy, unexpected things, things that might make us look foolish in the eyes of others, things that might involve taking risks, things that do not sit easily with the culture in which we find ourselves. This might involve confronting unjust governments or legal systems, taking the part of someone whom society has rejected, giving voice to the voiceless or giving a home to the homeless. It might mean risking censure and being misunderstood and it can be unsettling and disturbing, but if God is behind it, the results will be astounding.

Like Joseph, we can be sure that if God calls us to do something – however unusual or strange– that it will be for the furthering of God’s kingdom and that if, like Joseph we put to one side our fears, our questions and our doubts, God will ensure that God’s will is achieved through us, no matter how unlikely that might seem.



[1] Jimmy Barnes: Working Class Boy


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