By Charles Johnston:
I’ve said this many time; we are not called to be spectators to our faith, we are called to be participants. Each of us has a charism or gift of the Holy Spirit, received in the Sacrament of Baptism and strengthened by Confirmation, to help build Christ’s church, and with it, God’s Kingdom. You might say “I go to church on Sunday’s, that’s all that is required of me.” But you’d be wrong, we are all called to build up the Church by evangelizing and teaching, by being good examples and by studying God’s Word.
Maybe you’ve thought that God couldn’t possibly use you, to help build up His Kingdom, because you don’t have what it takes? Maybe you’ve thought that He only uses great people to do great things? Do let this thought overwhelm you, because we can all do only what we can, God will do the rest.
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” St Teresa of Calcutta
We all know the story of how God took Saul, the person who so hated Christians that his very breath was murderous, “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest” (Acts 9:1), and changed him into Paul the great evangelist. But there are some people, and some non-people, that God used that were not even more unlikely than Paul!
Let’s take a look at some of the most unlikely of heroes:
I think the biggest example of this is the story of Balaam in the book of Numbers. The Israelites had been traveling through the desert for a long time, and were only now, nearing the promise land. They had overcome every enemy who had opposed them, so King Balak of Moab decided to call on some divine assistance to defeat them.
King Balak summoned a man named Balaam to come and put a curse on the Israelites, that he might defeat them in battle. When his emissaries did convince him the first time, they returned with even more gold and Balaam saddled his donkey to go curse the Israelites with them.
This is where the story takes a very interesting turn;
“So Balaam rose in the morning, and saddled his donkey, and went with the princes of Moab. But God’s anger was kindled because he went; and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. And the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand; and the donkey turned aside out of the road, and went into the field; and Balaam struck the donkey, to turn her into the road. Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. And when the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she pushed against the wall, and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall; so he struck her again. Then the angel of the LORD went ahead, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam; and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. Then the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made sport of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, upon which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Was I ever accustomed to do so to you?” And he said, “No.” Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed his head, and fell on his face. (Numbers 22:21-31)
God told Balaam not to curse the Israelites because He had already blessed them, but he wouldn’t listen, so God opened the mouth of his donkey. The story exemplifies how we can have spiritual blindness to the reality right in front of us, just as St. Paul being struck with blindness on the Damascus road led him to realize how blind he’d been to Christ.
If God can deliver a message through a donkey, surely he can through you and me.
Not long after Balaam and his donkey, we come to the account of Rahab:
Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho, that saved the lives of a couple of Israelite spies, who were sent to reconnoiter the city. We don’t know why they thought that a foreign prostitute would be a good person to entrust their lives to, but what we do know is that if it wasn’t for this woman named Rahab, their mission would’ve ended with them dead and Joshua without his needed intelligence.
When the king found out there were spies in the city he raised an alarm, and it was only by the quick thinking of Rahab that the spies were saved. She told them the reason for her saving them was because she had heard of the great victories of Israel, who were led out of bondage in Egypt by their God, and being convinced that the God of Israel is the one true God, she wanted to be on His team.
So the spies and Rahab made a pact, “Behold, when we come into the land, you shall bind this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down; and you shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household. If any one goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be upon his head, and we shall be guiltless; but if a hand is laid upon any one who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head. (Joshua 2:18-19)
This is similar to the way that God had the Israelites mark their houses during the Passover in Egypt, in fact, it’s probably where they got the idea from, “The blood shall be a sign for you, upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 12:13)
Even in a foreign kingdom, God uses a pagan King to restore His people:
The people of Judea and Jerusalem were carried away into captivity in Babylon for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which was turning their back on God. But even though God was allowing them go through this torment of exile, He hadn’t abandoned them. God had promised King David that an heir of his would always reign as King, “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.'” (2 Samuel 7:16) Because of this, and other promises, God would eventually bring His people back to the land He had given them.
When the Babylonian Kings were at their height of ridicule and abuse of their Hebrew captives, God brought their entire kingdom crashing down (as told in Daniel 5), and made them come under the domination of the Persians. One of these Persians was king Cyrus the great, who not only eased the persecution of the Hebrew people but who allowed them to go home. In the book of Isaiah we see that Cyrus is actually called God’s “anointed one,” that’s a very high title to be called.
Cyrus heard God speak to him, and obeyed what he was told to do. A pagan King, from a foreign land, listened to the word of God better than the kings of Israel and Judah, isn’t that ironic? Not only did he send them home, but he also instructed them to rebuild the Temple of God that Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed a few generations previously. “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremi’ah might be accomplished, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel-he is the God who is in Jerusalem; and let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:1-4)
Cyrus lives out this calling prophesied about him in Isaiah, “Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb:”I am the LORD, who made all things, who stretched out the heavens alone,who spread out the earth-Who was with me? who frustrates the omens of liars,and makes fools of diviners;who turns wise men back,and makes their knowledge foolish; who confirms the word of his servant,and performs the counsel of his messengers;who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited,’and of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built,and I will raise up their ruins’; who says to the deep, ‘Be dry,I will dry up your rivers’; who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd,and he shall fulfill all my purpose’; saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.'” (Isaiah 44:24-28)
So we see that God can use a donkey, a prostitute and a foreign King to further his plan for Israel- and by extension the plan of salvation for all mankind- then He can defiantly use you to help build His kingdom (if you’ll let Him) All you have to do is say, like King David,
“My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready: I will Sing.” (Psalms 57:7a D-R)