Beckett: The Table of Duties – Vocations/Callings

What is the Table of Duties? It is “a listing of Bible passages addressing the very down-to-earth and yet high and holy callings of Christians in their daily lives. It is modeled after the listing of household responsibilities in Colossians 3:8-4:1 and Ephesians 5:22-6:9. It is Luther’s way of applying the catechism to daily life. The list of Bible passages is arranged under three general headings: (1) life in the congregation; (2) life in the civic community; and (3) life in the household” (SC, p. 349).

In other words, the Table of Duties covers the variety of vocations you hold. Vocation, from the Latin vocatio, means “calling.” Everyone is always on a search for their “calling” in life, often in some grand way they can change the world. Others restrict it to their career. The former is outright erroneous and arguably pretentious, whereas the latter is far too narrow. Not everyone is “called” to some grand thing in which they will leave behind a legacy. And while one’s job or career is certainly a vocation, it is not the only vocation a person holds.

It is best to circle back to the beginning of the Small Catechism—the Ten Commandments—to consider what one’s table of duties, or vocations, might be. Commandments 1-3 fall under the first category of life in the congregation, and Commandments 4-10 fall under the other two categories of life in the civic community and in the household. Furthermore, all these vocations fall under the umbrella of where your identity begins: your Baptism. Thus, as a baptised child of God, how do you fear, love, and trust in God above all things (trusting in Him over your idols)? How do you keep His name hallowed on your lips (how do you speak to, for, and about Him)? How do you keep the Sabbath (do you attend Divine Service)?

Moving into your life in your community and household: how do you honour your parents and other authorities (government, employer, pastor, etc.)? What role do you play in protecting life (e.g., pro-life protests, educating others about the science of life in the womb, as a police officer if you are one, a parent, doctor, etc.)? How do you lead a sexually pure and decent life as a single person, or married person? How are you as a neighbour (friend, colleague, classmate, sibling, next door neighbour, etc.)? Depending on your role as neighbour, how might you protect your neighbour’s possessions, income, reputation, and marriage?

In a culture where people are desperately looking for meaning in life, the theology of vocation makes it easy and remarkably, yet also comfortingly, simple. No one needs to embark on a long, tumultuous journey to find meaning in life. No need to climb a mountain and meditate on your existential dread. Rather, God gives you this meaning Himself in the vocations He gives you, that is, in the people He’s placed in your life. If you are a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, an employee, a church member, or whatever else, that is your meaning. Most of all, again, your meaning begins in your Baptism, and this shapes and forms everything else about you. Consider, therefore, what it means for you to be a baptised parent, a baptised son/daughter, a baptised sibling, a baptised employee, a baptised musician, a baptised artist, a baptised photographer, a baptised writer, a baptise nurse or doctor, a baptise janitor, a baptised hunter, a baptised farmer, and on and on these deeply meaningful gifts go. All of these and more are filled with eternal meaning to love your neighbour just as Christ has loved you.


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