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God’s Surprising Choices

by Fr. John Henry Hanson, O.Praem.


“He called His disciples to Himself, and from them He chose Twelve.” God’s choices are mysterious—and they don’t become less so as we grow older, especially for those of us who are specially chosen. Each of us could look at ourselves and see a huge gap between who we are and what we are called to be. At some point in our past, God entered our lives and said, “You.” To which we might have replied, “Are you sure?” But what is behind the Lord’s choices isn’t the same thing that drives our own choices. We choose for ourselves things that are the best, strongest, most beautiful, most obviously suited. We like to get our money’s worth. And we want our choices to reflect our good taste, intelligence, foresight, practicality. It says something about our judgment.

But what do God’s choices say about Him? If you had a message to send out to all the earth, would you choose as messengers twelve common men, without much education, to spread your message in places that they’ve probably only heard of? Would you choose men who are more at home on a boat than in a pulpit? Would you select men who might end up betraying you, or at least running away when you need them most? This is not how we would choose, but Scripture tells us a different story.

Jesus knows exactly what He’s doing. For Him, there’s no such thing as “twenty-twenty hindsight.” He sees right through each apostle. He takes everything about them into account, and still says “You.” This is why Jesus tells us to leave behind just about everything when we follow Him, except for one thing. We leave behind mother and father, riches, comfort—but He does not ask us to leave behind our weakness. He doesn’t ask us to leave our issues behind, not even our sins. He doesn’t say, “From here on out, no more mistakes, no more failure.” Jesus says, “If you will consent to be weak and humble, if you will walk that narrow path with Me, then all things will be yours, and you will be all things to all men, because you will be all Mine.”

In other words, God chooses souls who can best showcase His mercy. It’s humbling to be a model of merciful treatment. Wouldn’t you rather be a model of something else, like strength or beauty? St. Paul says that he was treated mercifully as an example for all who would come to believe in Christ. If you can’t handle being humbled and needing to receive mercy, then you might turn around and go back the way you came. Judas had the potential to be the greatest trophy of Jesus’ mercy, to be the patron saint not only of impossible causes but of really impossible causes, but he refused it. He could have been the great apostle of mercy: “I betrayed the Son of Man for hard cash; I betrayed Him with a kiss; I was an arrogant, scheming, hypocritical, backstabbing man; and He took me back.” That is a story that could have been true. But it isn’t.

In Scripture God’s choices are not infrequently mocked because they go against what makes sense to us. Moses was mocked and even hated by his own people. The prophets were mistreated and rejected. And the apostles were very often ridiculed—people called them drunken men at Pentecost, and Peter and John were regarded by the Sanhedrin as simpletons.

Moses told the Israelites on the border of the Promised Land, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set His love upon you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples; but it is because the Lord loves you.” And in the New Testament the pattern is the same: “For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world … so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

An apostle might have ambitions to boast about his accomplishments. He may want to show to the world the power of God on his own terms, but that is not the kind of apostle that Jesus wants following Him. “Shall we call down fire from heaven to consume them?” No. “Master, here are two swords.” No, thank you. “Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.” Do not forbid him.

“Then, Lord, what would you have us do?” And the Lord answers: “Be as My chosen vessel, St. Paul, and say, ‘I will boast of the things that show my weakness…. I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses.’” That mysterious, difficult contentment is the vocation of an apostle. But once chosen, it opens the avenue down which Christ’s grace can flow into us and through us for the sake of others.

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