Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Today is the feast of St Matthew. I have to confess a certain affection for the saint: he was a tax collector; I was a tax inspector. The fact that he is equated with the figure of Levi, the tax collector in Luke and Mark, is one of the reasons I chose that name when ordained.

I find the calling of Matthew, today's Gospel reading, a beautiful story. I can see the tax collector, hated by all, sitting at his booth; his out-cast status has hardened his heart & given him a neck of solid brass - he thinks he doesn't care that everyone despises him. he thinks they're all fools - they don't live in the real world. The Romans are in charge & anyone with any sense sees that you have to work with them.

But he sees Jesus and his followers about the town. He over-hears from time to time the words that he preaches. He hears him speak of love and mercy and compassion. And he thinks: fine words - but I don't see him coming near me!

And then one day he does. And Matthew is overwhelmed. He has been invited in ... and he suddenly realises that it something that he wants more than anything. So he gets up and goes with Jesus. Later as they are eating, he hears the murmuring of the good people of the town. And his heart freezes. This is it, he thinks. I'm going to be pushed out again. But it doesn't happen. Jesus doesn't tell him to go. Instead he tells the good people that he is here for people like Matthew. They are the ones that really need him.

Matthew can't believe what he is hearing. Not only has Jesus invited him to be with him, he has defended him against those who would condemn him. Matthew can hardly describe the feelings that well up within him. But he knows that he will never leave this man. He will follow him everywhere. And he will tell others about him, so they can feel the way that he feels now.

That's what I think when I read the story of the calling of Matthew; how wonderful it must have been for him to go from being the one who was despised to one who knew love and acceptance. And of course, if it isn't to labour the point, it reminds me that that love and acceptance is still on offer to us today ... or at least it should be. Think of those you might look down upon ... now look around your church. Are they there? If not, why not? Are they welcome there? Do they know they are welcome? Have you invited them in? That's what Jesus did for Matthew. That's what we must continue to do today.

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