St Bride's: Sermons

St Matthew

Matthew 9:9-13

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And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.

10 And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.

11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?

12 But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.

13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

St Matthew
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It's so easy to read the Gospels without realising the implications of what is narrated. The call of Matthew is a case in point.

A man is sitting at the receipt of taxes. Jesus appears, says 'follow me'. The man gets up and goes with this stranger, and later holds a dinner at his house. Jesus is accused of eating with tax collectors and sinners, and his riposte is that he came not to call the righteous but sinners.

The call in itself is very significant.

Why should a man get up and leave everything for a stranger and end up with a life constantly at odds with his previous existence, and even face death for his beliefs? No more lucrative employment, but rather a nomadic life with this strange, attractive man, whose views seemed somewhat subversive, and whose views eventually hastened his execution.

Would you do it?

Then there is his job.

He is a tax collector - a publican as the Authorised Version has it. He has betrayed his fellow-countrymen by collecting taxes for the hated Roman occupying force and was keeping a slice of the taking for his own use. In popular consciousness he is classed alongside prostitutes. He is despised.

And yet Jesus eats with Matthew and other tax collectors and sinners - the meal in itself a sign of acceptance and companionship.
Matthew's life was profoundly changed. He is said to have preached the Gospel in Ethiopia but there is debate as the manner of his death. His relics are said to be in Salerno and probably other places as well. It is not certain that he wrote the Gospel that bears his name, but was numbered among the Apostles. We should venerate him for all of that alone.

But what is more important in a sense on his feast day is to listen to the Gospel message as if for the first time, and to look at the text with the fresh eyes that are required of us every time the memoirs of the apostles are proclaimed, especially in the liturgy.
In this episode is revealed the true nature of the Christ, and the heart of the Father who sent him.

Jesus called a sinner and ate with him.

For the orthodox believer at the time what was required in order for a person to achieve favour with God, was to keep all 613 commandments of the Law. Nothing more was required. Tax collectors and other sinners were lawbreakers, to be rejected by the community, and presumably by God too. And yet, here is this man, respected by many as a teacher, associating with those who had rejected the heart of the tradition.

Of course the whole things turns on who we think Jesus is, who the Church believes he is.

What do you believe? Is he simply a good man, very close to God, who shows us an example of right behaviour that will lead us to everlasting happiness in heaven?bOr is he much more than that, or even not that at all?

That is why we need to look at the Gospels, and to recognise afresh that  this man reveals God, is God here among us. If that is so, then perceptions will be changed, not least in the sense that we recognise that this Jesus, God-made Man, does eat with tax collectors and sinners, and come not to call the righteous but sinners.

He comes to the dirt and disorder, the injustice, the squalor of human life, joins us in it and declares, personifies the indiscriminate, outrageous, unquenchable love of God.

Yes. Nothing else really.

Matthew must have seen that, and we are invited to see it too, to take that truth into our own hearts and rise up and follow, disregarding the consequences because we have seen and felt this outpouring of the undying love of God, through a man.
A man who still eats with tax collectors and sinners, and indeed in a wonderful and mysterious sense, is himself the meal.

Think about what we are doing, here, today. It is easy to trivialise it, miss the scandalous self-giving of God, right here, in the same way that we can fail to see the outrageous truth of the Gospel.

God loves sinners.

That is the motivation for our pilgrimage, for we are all sinners

The sick, needing the doctor.

The sick, for whom Christ came

Sometimes those who feel they are too bad to be forgiven. Others, most of us maybe, who have a precarious grasp of our faith, who know our need of the God we can only tenuously believe in, whom we are inclined to blame for what is wrong with us, with the world. The 'righteous' - there are some - cannot understand why others are not like them.  If they were agony columnists their sole reply to anyone with a problem would be 'pull yourself together'.

Poverty is the fault of the poor. Sinners must be converted and become like the righteous, and there is no room in their world view for the love and mercy of God. But the Church is open house for sinners, for those eager to know fully their need for God.

To realise our need is to motivate us for mission, for going out as Matthew and other apostles did. We must act as the one we receive. And we must search for and recognise him in the very people he first came to save.

Matthew, yes, and all those since who have seen in this Jesus the God, who created all that is, here among us. Frank Weston, who was bishop of Zanaibar of the first part of the twentieth century, issued a rallying call under the title 'Our Present Duty', at the Anglo-Catholic Congress in 1923. This is the end of his speech: Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good.

Look for Jesus.

And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.


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