September 21, 2007

Thoughts for St. Matthew's Day

Perhaps some of the parables that Jesus told had Matthew in mind. Certainly Matthew would have seen himself in them. Consider the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Both went to the temple to pray. Only one leaves justified. Why? The Pharisee prayed to God on his own merits; the Tax Collector simply said, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."

Matthew was a tax collector. Tax Collectors were traitors to their people. But it was for traitors that Jesus came. Rebels, alcoholics, porn-addicts, unscrupulous scoundrels who lie and cheat to get ahead. Jesus did not come for the righteous--as though there are any--but for sinners. Even a sinner such as St. Matthew. In Jesus, Matthew received the request of the tax collector's prayer: mercy.

Also to St. Matthew came the radical call: "Follow Me." Jesus chooses him; Matthew does not choose Jesus. Neither do we choose Jesus. We can choose to reject, however. And what is amazing is that Matthew does not. He leaves his tax office and follows Jesus.

What does it mean to follow Jesus? The Gospels call it being a disciple. Matthew's own new name reminds us of this. His given name is Levi, but Levi the tax collector becomes Matthew the disciple. The name "Matthew" means "Gift of YHWH," but it sounds a great deal like the Greek word mathētēs, which means "disciple."

To be a disciple is to be a learner, a pupil, an adherent, a follower. Jesus bids us too to follow Him. The road is arduous. A disciple is never above his Master; thus we are never perfected in this life. Sometimes it seems as though we have not yet begun to really be a disciple. But the call comes again, today and every day: "Follow Me."

It seems a very hard command, just like those words from last Sunday can be so hard to hear: "Do not worry." But like those words, "Follow Me" is a command that is no command, but pure promise. The One who says, "Follow Me," is the self-same One who says, "Come unto Me all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." It is a burden that is no burden, a yoke with no weight. He calls us to follow Him to the place where He dines with sinners, eats with tax-collectors. Table fellowship with Him is receiving mercy.

All praise to God for gifts given to and through the author of the First Gospel!

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