The Feast of St. Matthew – September 21st, 2014 – Matthew 9:9-13
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
So, here in our Gospel text we get to see the call of Matthew. It’s one verse – As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed Him. Seems quite simple – Jesus walks by and summons Matthew to follow Him. But do we really pause and see what is going on? Matthew is there – he’s working a tax booth. He’s got a good, well paying job. He’s probably got everything that a person could want in this life – a big house, wealth, good food. Luke records for us that this dinner that takes up the rest of the text is actually hosted by Matthew. And yet – when Christ calls him, Matthew simply and willingly leaves that behind. There would be no more wealth coming from the cushy government job. The house would be abandoned in order to follow Jesus around wherever he went, and Matthew is given over to a life of teaching and proclaiming Christ, whatever the cost to himself.
When we look at Matthew, we should be impressed and humbled. When Christ commanded Matthew to follow Him, it meant that Matthew had to give up all that he had, all that he was. And Matthew goes. No fuss, no bluster – simply, “he rose and followed Him.” Now, ponder this. We too, have been called to follow Jesus – all Christians are to take up their cross and follow their Lord. Our lives are not our own – rather we live as God’s servants until He calls us home. We all indeed have things that we give up or forgo as Christians – but don’t they pale in comparison to what Matthew is called to, the burden the Lord places upon him? How many of you here have had to leave everything to follow Christ – how many have had to give up family and friends, leave your job, your home to serve Christ? Tradition even holds that Matthew died a martyr’s death – that following Christ for Matthew meant torture and death. Do any of us reasonably expect to face that in our following of Christ? Yet how often do we grouse and grumble about the simple things that we as Christians who follow our Lord are to do? Daily devotions and study of Scripture seem a burden. Coming to Church is often less appealing than finding something more entertaining – to say nothing of coming to bible study. Our Lord’s command to love the neighbor can fly out the window when that neighbor is difficult. Whereas Christ demands of Matthew that he give up all, Christ lets you serve, lets you follow Him right where you are – and yet – how often do we ignore or push aside or complain about the simple things we are given to do? The call of Matthew, the fact that he willingly gets up and goes, leaves his home and a life of luxury behind should humble us – and encourage us pay attention to how we are supposed to be serving Christ even in our own life.
However, on that day when our Lord called Matthew – the Pharisees were not impressed – not impressed with Matthew, and not impressed with our Lord’s decision to have Matthew follow Him. And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” So, not only does Jesus end up calling Matthew, but He sits down and eats with sinners and other tax collectors. You have to remember that there was a rather large hatred towards tax collectors – I’m sure we’d give someone who worked for the IRS today a bit of grief over their job, especially every April. But it was worse in Jesus’ day than just taxes. Imagine the US was conquered by a foreign government, and then that government, Russia, China, whoever, sent tax collectors who would take your stuff, often demand bribes, and just all around bilk you. That’s what the situation was in Jesus’ day – and that’s who this Matthew is that Jesus calls – even if Matthew were an honest tax collector, he was a sell out to the Romans, taking good, hard earned money away from Jews and giving it to Pagans. And then, to eat with sinners? To actually talk to “bad” people. Jesus must be out of His mind!
But note what the Pharisees do. They don’t talk to Jesus – they bad mouth Him to His disciples. Eh, your “teacher” seems pretty dumb to us – look at what He’s doing. It’s sneaky, it’s rude, it’s tricksy. They are definitely not putting the best construction on things or explaining things in the kindest way – rather, they complain behind Jesus’ back. Nasty business, that.
But, at any rate, their snide comments get around to Jesus. So. . . what will Jesus do? How will He respond to these complaints about Himself? Will He defend Himself? “I’ve done nothing wrong here!” Will He defend Matthew? “Hey, this Matthew is a fine, up-standing citizen, don’t besmirch him.” Will He chastise the Pharisees – “if you have a problem with Me, come to Me, don’t pick on my students!” No, what Jesus says is something that is interesting and wonderful. But when He heard it, He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” Why am I here – why would I eat with sinners? Precisely because they are sinners and need Me, need My teaching, need My preaching, and most of all, need My forgiveness. And note how blunt Jesus is – yeah, these folks are sinners, they need help, and they were humble enough to know it. Even virtuous Matthew, who by rights could make us blush – just another sinner in need of Christ’s healing. And Matthew even writes it down – how do we meet Matthew? We meet him as a sinner – but Matthew isn’t ashamed of that – for Matthew is a sinner whom has been healed by the Great Physician, Christ Jesus. Do you see what Jesus is teaching with this – that while your sin may be great – the God who cures you and heals you of that sin by His death upon the Cross is greater.
In fact, Jesus spells it out in more detail. He says to the Pharisees, “Go and learn what this means – ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ Jesus quotes Hosea at them. You Pharisees should have known what I’d be doing here – because what does God desire – God desires to show mercy, to show love. God is more pleased showing mercy to a sinner than listening to you bleat on about how wonderful you are and all the sacrifices you offer up, how hard you work for God. And this is something we need to remember. God desires to be a merciful God. God loves mercy, God loves showing mercy – so the fact that you have sinned, God handles that – He gladly shows mercy. If anything, what upsets God more than sinning is when you downplay forgiveness, when you brush off His mercy – when you would rather toot your own horn than focus on His mercy. As Christians, you are to do bad things, and you should always strive to do better – but the Christian faith isn’t about what you do – it is about the Mercy God shows you because of and through Christ’s death upon the Cross. And this is what we are to learn – it is what Matthew learned as one of Christ’s disciples, and it is the heart of what we learn today – so that we don’t become like these backbiting Pharisees complaining about everyone else and puffing ourselves up with vain works. God is merciful – and He desires to show you mercy. Confess your sin and receive that mercy.
And friends – this isn’t an optional part of being a Christian. To be a Christian, to be in relationship with God is nothing less than to receive His mercy. Our Lord says, “For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Who does Christ call? He calls sinners. Matthew is called – and his sins are forgiven, and Matthew learns and grows in the faith, and even writes Scripture. Who else is called? All those sinners there, called to repentance – called to receive God’s mercy. And who is left out – the Pharisees, the ones who think that they are righteous – the ones who think that they aren’t sinners. Christ calls them to the carpet – when you’ve realized your need for mercy and forgiveness, then you too will be welcome at the feast– but until then – there’s nothing here. If you are smug, if you are self-righteous – there is nothing here in this place for you. If you trust in your own works, that you are just such a wonderful Christian – what good would preaching of the Cross, preaching of forgiveness do you? Until you know that you are sinner – God will have nothing to say to you other than a word of Law to show you your sin.
But you are a sinner, and you know that. The temptation that we face, though, is to soft sell this, to water down this truth – well, sure, we’re all sinners – but so-and-so did this, and man are they bad! No, let’s not beat around the bush We are sinners. Period. But now see and understand what Matthew so desperately teaches throughout His Gospel. See what Christ invites you to, what He calls you to. He has called you to His house, to hear His healing Word of forgiveness preached to you. He has called you into His family in the waters of Holy Baptism – this is not just a once in a while social visit – but you are called into His family now. You, sinner, are called even to His Table, to His meal, His Supper, to receive His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins. This is what we all have in common – we are all sinners called to receive together Christ’s life giving and forgiveness giving Supper – called to be healed of our sin by the Supper of the Great Physician – called to be given His strength. And this is what our Lord shall continue to do for you – whatever your station in life, your job, where you live – even if you don’t get to be an Apostle – Christ calls you to join in His holy feast with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.
Dear friends in Christ – do not be afraid to strive against your sin – to strive every day to live as God has called you. And when you fail – for when you set yourself to Christ’s standards, you will see your failures – remember that God desires mercy, and indeed He calls you, a sinner, to His house to shower that mercy upon you. This is what God did for Matthew, it is what He does for each and every one of us. God grant that we remember this all the days of our earthly life and remain faithful unto death. In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen.