21 September 2008
18th Sunday after Trinity – St Matthew
9.00 Mattins – Stone
Readings: 1 Kings 19:15 –end; 2 Timothy 3:14 – end
Although we have, quite correctly, had the readings for Mattins this morning and I will be thinking about those reading a little further in a moment, I did not want to ignore the fact that today is the Feast of St Matthew the apostle and evangelist and, if I may, I would like to share with you the gospel reading set for that feast. It is taken from Matthew chapter 9 vv. 9 – 13:
9As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
10While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. 11When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
12On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'[a] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Interestingly the last time I preached at Stone it was on the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector who climbed up a tree to see Jesus as he passed by, Jesus called him down by name and announced that he would be eating at Zacchaeus’ house that night. This caused the Pharisees some consternation given the ‘outcast’ or ‘sinful’ status of being a tax collector – how, they wondered, could Jesus preach about the kingdom of God whilst fraternising with such people? Surely eating with tax collectors and their sinful ilk would either compromise the ritual cleanliness of a faithful Jewish man like Jesus or, just as likely, perhaps they thought that by mixing with such social outcasts Jesus was in some way demonstrating his true colours and thereby undermining his claim to have come from God? The story of Zacchaeus concludes, of course, not with Jesus being compromised or being shown to be a sinner but, rather with Zacchaeus’ personal transformation and his pledge to give half his wealth to the poor and the make recompense to anyone he has cheated.
Well, the parallels between the story of Zacchaeus and the calling of Matthew are clear – like Zacchaeus Matthew was a tax collector, Jesus calls him to be a follower and immediately invites himself and others over to dinner and, once again, Jesus’ keeping of such ‘sinful’ company causes the Pharisee’s some consternation. However in this case we are not told about Matthew’s immediate personal transformation (although we do know that a transformation happened given that Matthew became of the 12 apostles and the writer of this gospel) rather we have Jesus’ own explanation for keeping company with sinners rather than the righteous:
, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'[a] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
It is always worth remembering that as followers of Christ who have each been called in some way to be part of his church, no matter how indistinct that call may be nor how tangential our involvement with the church may be, that none of us are called by Christ to break bread with him because of our righteousness rather we are each called because of our need for healing. Neither Matthew nor Zacchaeus nor any of us earned Jesus’ attention by keeping the law or doing good deeds – rather they, and each of us, got Jesus’ attention because we needed it.
Now, most Christians don’t have a problem with accepting that in theory but it is worth remembering how easy it is to become like the Pharisees in these stories by taking our own healing for granted, to forget that we are only where we are by the grace of God and to adversely judge other people’s apparent distance from God.
Anyway I am not going to develop that particular line of thought any further this morning save to say that the calling of Matthew the tax collector should remind each of us that God is often at work in the most unexpected of places and in the most unlikely of people. Trust me on that, I used to be a lawyer.