FEAST OF ST. MATTHEW – September 21, 2014

(Rev. Meyer)

SCRIPTURES – Ezekiel 2:8 – 3:11; Eph. 4:7-16; Matt. 9:9-13

 

Matthew – An Unlikely Candidate                                                          Matthew 9:9-13

 

Point:              that we might act mercifully toward others – growing up in Christ

Problem:        we fail to act mercifully because we want to control those with whom we

Choose to associate – remaining exclusive

Power:            because God has acted mercifully toward us – changing us – we can act

with mercy toward others

 

The Church Calendar lists all the major and minor festivals we celebrate – Christmas, Easter and Pentecost being the most important. Among the lesser festivals are those when we recognize some the saints of the early church, and today, September 21st is one of them – St. Matthew – Apostle and Evangelist.

 

St. Matthew – Apostle and Evangelist. Wow – quite a title, but then Matthew was quite a man. And the Gospel that bears his name has quite a message. So much so that it rose to be number #1 on the Best Sellers list in the 1st century.

 

Matthew was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, witnessed Jesus’ teachings, miracles and healings during Jesus’ three-year ministry. He was there when Jesus died and then rose again and ascended to his Father. He was there at Pentecost when God’s Spirit was unleashed upon the Church. And then, according to tradition, following the events of Pentecost, Matthew became a missionary to northern Africa where he proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ and where he died a martyr’s death.

 

Matthew was one of the twelve men whom Jesus chose to be his intimate companions and followers. But of the twelve, only he and John were credited with writing a Gospel in which the life and ministry of Jesus was interpreted. Personally, I find that a bit strange. Why not a Gospel from Andrew – who introduced his brother Peter to Jesus?  “We have found the Christ!” Why not a Gospel from Peter, the key disciple among the twelve? I find Matthew strange because I consider him an unlikely candidate.

 

You see, Matthew was the only one of the twelve that I know of who had a “past”. As we were reminded in today’s Gospel lesson, he was a tax collector which meant, in those days, he was working for the occupying forces of the Roman empire and against his own people. Unlike the professional men and women who work for the IRS today, tax collectors were among the most detested persons in Jewish society. This is why: the Romans would sell the franchise for taxes for a given community, and whoever bought that franchise could charge whatever taxes the traffic would bear. No appeal. Because they had Roman soldiers available to enforce their tax bills.

 

As you can imagine, tax collectors had a horrible reputation – worse than the proverbial used car salesman. They were greedy, dishonest, unscrupulous, sometimes brutal – traitors to their own countrymen. As a result they weren’t permitted into the synagogues for worship and were labeled as “unclean”. They belonged to that class in which today we would include drug dealers, sex offenders, and pornographers. You wouldn’t want Matthew as your neighbor and you certainly wouldn’t want your kids playing with his.

 

So, why in the world did Jesus approach Matthew? Perhaps Jesus was a terrible judge of character. Or maybe Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. Perhaps Jesus didn’t need Matthew as much as Matthew needed Jesus!

 

The only answer I can come up with is that Jesus was motivated to call Matthew as a disciple out of mercy! Jesus extended himself beyond his circle of self-interest, reached out to this “outcast” with compassion and love, and said, follow me.

 

Something happened to Matthew in that moment. I imagine he knew who Jesus was and the wonderful things he said and accomplished. Unlike himself, he knew Jesus was one of the good guys – one of the godly guys. And now Jesus was inviting him – him of all people – to follow as a disciple. He didn’t deserve this! To demonstrate his gratitude, he did two things: he abandoned his tax office income, and hosted a meal to which his tax buddies were invited. Matthew wanted his colleagues to know that his past was behind him and that his future was linked to Jesus. He had been received and welcomed out of compassion and mercy and he wanted his world to know.

 

Of course, this created a stir among the religious elite. Instead of rejoicing that a man had changed for the better, they criticized Jesus for eating with “tax collectors and sinners”. Jesus replied with an answer that we should memorize: I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.

 

Mercy – to act with compassion and love toward those who don’t deserve it. It was out of mercy that Jesus chose Matthew, and it was with mercy that Jesus expected Matthew to conduct his life and ministry. And what Jesus expected of Matthew, he also expects of us.

 

Now, we are people who follow Jesus. Just how much mercy do we practice toward others?

Toward Matthew-type people?  People who are outside our circle of self-interest?

 

  • Some of us may have trouble dealing with members of other races or ethnicities

  • Some of us may have trouble dealing with people with handicaps – ADHD, Down syndrome

  • Hey, some of us may have difficulty dealing with relatives – or fellow-members of St Peter’s

 

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find myself drawing back from such people, wanting to protect myself and what I consider “mine”. I don’t want to extend myself beyond my immediate circle, and why should I? I prefer dealing with “nice people”, like me!

 

Yet it was not so with Jesus. That’s not the way he dealt with Matthew and that’s not the way he deals with us. St Paul lays it out for us in his letter to the Ephesians: God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive with Christ – by grace you have been saved!

 

 

If Jesus wanted to remain exclusive, he would never have left heaven to come to earth. If Jesus wanted to associate only with his own kind, you and I would have been left out – really!

 

Rather, out of MERCY – a loving concern and compassion for us and our condition, Jesus not only chose to come and to live among us, but to offer his life on the cross on our behalf. He died and was raised again so that our sins might be forgiven and we might be restored and reconciled to God.

 

And like Matthew we are grateful! In return for his mercy, we love and serve him. And, like Matthew we are willing to be merciful toward others – or as St Paul encourages us in that same passage from Ephesians – For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do the good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.

 

Matthew knew something about good works. After Jesus summoned him, he got up, left his lucrative tax office and former way of life behind and followed Jesus. Participating in Jesus’ ministry, he did “good works”, he “showed mercy”, by feeding the hungry, befriending the poor, calling for justice – and especially by proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

And there’s nothing Mathew did that in Jesus’ Name, we can’t do also.

 

It was no accident that Jesus stopped by Matthew’s tax office that day and said, “follow me”. It is likewise no accident when Jesus stops by your desk, your kitchen table, your pew this day. No accident that he calls and challenges you and me, “follow me”. Follow me and together, we’ll practice mercy, and do those good  works which God has designed for us to accomplish.

 

Jesus’ call to Matthew is also Jesus’ call to you.  Follow me! The next move is yours!