SCRIPTURES – Ezekiel 2:8
– 3:11; Eph. 4:7-16; Matt. 9:9-13
Matthew – An Unlikely Candidate Matthew
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
to associate – remaining exclusive
Power: because God has acted mercifully
toward us – changing us – we can act
mercy toward others
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
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
Matthew-type people? People who are
outside our circle of self-interest?
of us may have trouble dealing with members of other races or ethnicities
of us may have trouble dealing with people with handicaps – ADHD, Down syndrome
some of us may have difficulty dealing with relatives – or fellow-members of St
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 Matthew is also Jesus’ call to you. Follow me! The next move is yours!