Successful Careers for the Unqualified

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time


I believe a successful career is marked by certain measurable benchmarks. To name a few in no particular order; one, you will want financial security—to be able to support yourself and your family in the present and the foreseeable future. Two, you will want a realistic level of personal satisfaction—including but not limited to being self-motivated in achieving your goals; being driven by what you’re passionate about; being challenged to grow in knowledge, skills, and strengths; being enriched with cultural and artistic expression; and becoming a better contributing member of family, church, and society. And three, you will want to have a generally positive influence on others around you—including inspiring the young; reassuring the old; encouraging the timid; strengthening the weak; supporting innovation and healthy competition; and standing for truth, justice, and the American way. I just had to get that in. Now it’s also helpful to remember that success is measured both subjectively as well as objectively. While you may not see yourself as successful, everyone else may think you’re smoking the competition. Or while you may think you’re a runaway success, no one’s buying it, and it’s actually just in your head. Lucky for us, this delusion is frequently a win-win.

So I stopped to look back on my career, half of which I’ve spent here. Financial security? Well, I’m not hurting, and my dog isn’t college material. I get to travel, but according to canon law, I can’t retire until at least 2034. And by the looks of it, I’ll still be working past retirement anyway. And that’s a lot of water to go under the bridge. So wish me luck. Personal satisfaction? I have good days and bad days. Most days I do enjoy coming to work, pretending to accomplish important things, meeting interesting people. I love my vocation, and I have job security. Since last I looked, nobody wants my job. I am aware that there’s a Japanese-made robot giving blessings in Germany, but I think I’m safe. But who knows for how long? Having a generally positive influence on others? Generally, I say yes. But I can’t pretend to make everyone happy. Even Jesus Christ didn’t make everyone happy. And he’s supposed to be my role model. Well, he is our role model. So that’s something to remember when you evaluate your career.

Recently I was browsing an employment search webpage to see if I still had any marketable skills. You know, just in case. I have to admit, I had no idea where to start. I did recognize most of the major job categories, for which I don’t believe I have either relevant education, past experience, or qualifications to even apply. I considered my educational background, experience, and other qualifications, and I concluded I might not even be able to convince some people I am qualified to do what I’m doing right now. I’m sure the job requirements have changed since I started 26 years ago. But I’m assured by that job security thing. So I think I’ll keep doing what I do.

It seems Amos was not just a regular prophet, one of those on the government payroll who staff local synagogues. He was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores, so very much unqualified to be a prophet. But God sent him anyway. He would have been content to stay on the farm, but God had plans. And God does that a lot, it seems, sending unqualified people to do important jobs. Joseph son of Jacob was sold as a slave by his brothers, and rose to be second in-command to Pharaoh, King of Egypt. The great King David was once a lowly shepherd, the youngest of at least 10 children, according to some biblical sources. The prophet Jeremiah, when called by God, famously objected because of his youth and general lack of experience. Jesus himself, God’s own Son, was a carpenter by trade. And Mary of Nazareth had no significant qualifications when she was chosen to be his mother. By the looks of it, God loves to hire the least qualified to do amazing things. Clearly, God’s standards for success bear no semblance to ours.

So “Jesus summoned the Twelve and gave them authority over unclean spirits … They went off and preached repentance, … drove out many demons, … and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”[1] We don’t have much on the Twelve, just that they were mostly uneducated. There were at least among them 7 fishermen by one count, a tax collector, a religious and political fanatic—which is not a profession in itself, and the rest were tradesmen of some sort. But in order to accomplish what Jesus wanted them to accomplish, he had to give them the necessary power and authority. We know all this unfolded accordingly. But none of them were truly successful by the world’s standards. And the things Jesus required were also not what most successful people would recommend. He sent them out two by two, and “instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic.” And if they met with resistance or indifference, they were told to just pick up and move on.[2] Once again, Jesus was rewriting the manual for a successful career. It seems no one else is following his lead. Yet we cannot deny his enterprise has surpassed all reasonable expectations.

St. Paul tells us that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ knows what he is doing, choosing partners and collaborators in ministry wisely and blessing them with the necessary tools for a successful career in discipleship. But regardless of all that God does, our presence and participation are still extremely vital. And yes, we have flaws and shortcomings, all of which God is well aware. Yet God chooses and equips us to accomplish amazing things. Financial stability may not be a top priority for God, but he takes great care of his own. And the retirement plan is truly out of this world. Personal satisfaction might also be somewhat low on the priority scale, but there’s an entirely different measure of satisfaction in Christian discipleship. We don’t need to set aside our personal objectives. We just have to be aware that God has his objectives, and the choice to get on board is still entirely ours to make. Lastly, having a generally positive influence on others is not always a measurable outcome in our lifetime. If we meet with resistance and indifference, we won’t really be able to tell. And by the time people do acknowledge our contribution, we will have traveled many rough roads, sailed many stormy seas, and shouldered many heavy burdens. I’m not helping the cause, am I?

So if we want to measure success in Christian discipleship, we should know God has different standards. And although God attains success at rates unparalleled in all of history, he also likes to employ those the world regards as unqualified. That’s not good news for slackers necessarily. God does have very high standards, just not the same as ours.

Rolo B Castillo © 2018


[1]Mark 6: 7, 12-13.

[2]Mark 6: 8-11.