(Medieval woodcut of a female physician making a cut for bloodletting and scarification, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
(This post originally written for Speaking to the Soul, Sunday, January 15, 2012)
Jesus departed with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him; hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him; for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him. Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, “You are the Son of God!” But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.
He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons. So he appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
Then he went home;
--Mark 3:7-19 (NRSV)
Most of the time, when I've read this passage, it's never one that garnered much of my attention, but this time something new shot to the forefront of my mind--there's at least a possibility that more than twelve people went up the mountain, and what we do know is that twelve were chosen as apostles.
It gets one's spiritual imagination going, doesn't it? What transpired from that day in the lives of the ones who "didn't make the cut?" We don't know how many Jesus called to come up the mountain that day. We just know twelve were chosen to follow him. We don't know if others were chosen for different tasks, such as returning to their home towns and telling about the miracles, and this man Jesus. What we know, is, perhaps only a small part of the story.
Thinking about these possibilities can lead each of us back to a time in our own lives when we were not chosen for something we desired. I remember a time towards the end of my residency when I was courted by a department chair with a national reputation as a pathology textbook author, at a prestigious teaching hospital. I began to already imagine myself in that position. It was a time not long after I had returned from three months in Washington DC at the now-defunct Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. Living in DC, even temporarily, was enjoyable and exciting (although expensive.) I was ready to try my hand living somewhere else other than Columbia, MO. I was already imagining the move and looking at real estate ads in that city's paper.
As it turned out, the position never materialized.
It was one of my first lessons in how even people with powerful national reputations don't get everything they want, which, in this case, meant I didn't get what I wanted. I was crushed for a spell. I was already assured a job at the University of Missouri, but I also knew this job would come with the baggage that accompanies "staying where one trained," and that there was very little year-to-year job security with it, and very little pay, comparatively, and one where I would never find a real "niche" that is so necessary for advancement in the large academic medical setting. It was a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none position, and non-tenure track, and most likely the first to go in a budget cut.
Yet our Psalms appointed for the morning reading speak to great joy, and unending praise. Where's the joy in seeing our heart's desire disintegrating? Our emotions in such things are closer to our reading in Genesis--a giant flood that seems to kill everything inside of us.
Perhaps the key lies in today's reading from Ephesians. Paul reminds us of the power of gifts of the spirit--that the gifts of some benefit all of us in the building up of the Body of Christ. Sometimes we have no way of knowing whose gift is building us up, and we also have no way of knowing how the things in our lives in the present--even the disappointing things--are slowly, unknowingly equipping us for building up that body in a way we cannot even imagine.
In my own case, the "lesser" job I took because I had nowhere else to go, brought me the gift of a particular senior pathologist who was a patient teacher, a man who often looked the other way at my inexperience, and became my most trusted and beloved colleague. The irony in it was during medical school and residency, I thought he was a fool. He equipped me in many things I use in my present position today, and there's not a week that goes by in my life and work I don't think of him in the frame of something he taught me. That "lesser" job gave me the tools to have the breadth and confidence to feel comfortable and secure in my present position--one where I am solo many days of the week and have to exercise diligent self-awareness of what my strengths and limitations are in my present practice environment.
By swallowing my ego, and becoming the willing pupil of the person I originally brushed off in the job I felt was a losing proposition, I became transformed.
Failures, delays, broken dreams and disappointments often comprise the dough from which transformation arises--if we are willing to trust in the possibilities of a God who continually makes all things new.