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Matthew appears in the list of the twelve apostles of Jesus and, according to the gospel written under his name, was a tax-collector. Mark and Luke called the tax-collector Levi, and it has been assumed that they are one and the same. This occupation was despised by his fellow Jews as a betrayal to the occupying Roman force but Christ showed that judging by outward appearance was not what he was about. He ate with Matthew and with his friends, scandalizing those around him. Matthew followed at his call and this was enough for Jesus, for he had drawn someone back to God. He was forgiven, therefore he was acceptable, therefore he was received.
O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
O Almighty God,
whose blessed Son called Matthew the tax collector
to be an apostle and evangelist:
give us grace to forsake the selfish pursuit of gain
and the possessive love of riches
that we may follow in the way of your Son Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
You have dealt graciously with your servant,
according to your word, O Lord.
O teach me true understanding and knowledge,
for I have trusted in your commandments.
Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I keep your word.
You are gracious and do good;
O Lord, teach me your statutes.
The proud have smeared me with lies,
but I will keep your commandments with my whole heart.
Their heart has become gross with fat,
but my delight is in your law.
It is good for me that I have been afflicted,
that I may learn your statutes.
The law of your mouth is dearer to me
than a hoard of gold and silver.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.
And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax-collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’
I want you to recall a time when you were so busy that you were oblivious to what was going on around you. No matter what the task that had you so engrossed may have been, I want you to remember the way in which you occupied the world it dominated. Could you hear the people around you? Were you aware of movement or sound? Were you aware of the time or the weather? Were you aware of anything but the task you were trying to complete?
Now, and before you think of the satisfaction you may have derived from completing that all-engrossing task, I want you to imagine one person standing before you and gently, but firmly, demanding your attention. Does the interruption lead to feelings of anger and frustration? Or, are you grateful for the chance to think about something else for a moment? What if that person were asking you to leave your task unfinished? What if that person was telling you that he had something far more important for you to do?
Today we celebrate St Matthew, apostle and evangelist. Matthew, also known as Levi, was a tax collector. Little is known of Matthew from the gospel narrative, other than he was a tax collector and that he did not hesitate in responding to Jesus’ call. The immediacy of Matthew’s response to Jesus’ words: Follow me, marks him out as someone who should be seen as an example to us all.
For those who consider themselves unworthy of the life of true discipleship, Matthew stands out as a role model. As a tax collector he would have been considered beneath contempt by orthodox Jews. The part he played in collecting taxes for the hated Roman occupiers would have been seen as a betrayal of his own people. But, one day, as he plied his hated trade in the lakeside town of Capernaum, a shadow fell over him and he was confronted with Jesus’ call to follow.
At this point the gospel narrative is clear. Matthew did not hesitate or argue. He did not express frustration or anger. Instead, Matthew left everything and followed Jesus into the life of a disciple and apostle. I wonder if any of us would have done the same.
So many people expend so much time and effort in avoiding Jesus’ call in their lives. They know the path they should be following, but its inconvenience or the necessary loss of social prestige are too much too bear. Such people like to call themselves ‘Christians’, of course, but only on their own terms. They only attend the acts of worship they like, they only sing the hymns they know, they only give to the charities they approve of. The list, sadly, goes on and on. There is certainly nothing of Matthew in their ‘brand’ of Christianity!
Let us pray that we might enter into the deepest of relationships with Jesus. Let us pray that we might learn to trust him enough to answer his call whenever and however it comes. Let us pray that we might find the strength and the humility to set aside all that we value and all that demands our attention in this world in order that we might hear Christ’s call and respond without hesitation, and in great joy.
Prayers of intercession
Let us pray to God who brings sinners to repentance and new life.
Keep the Church firm against temptation to compromise the faith for the sake of outward success. Deeply mindful of our own sins, may we always be open to receive into our fellowship the outcast and the despised.
We pray for all who control the wealth of the nations, all who deal in money transactions across the world. Bless with integrity and honest service those responsible for taxation.
In all that we do, shield us from the evil that springs from love of money. Make us honest in our debts and generous in our giving. Bless those in our community who are seeking the way back from the errors of their lives.
Have mercy on those who have fallen into debt and can find no escape. Help them to return to wise and secure living. Soften the hearts of any who oppress the poor and put gain before mercy.
We give thanks for all who have passed through the temptations of this world and come to their rest. Grant that when we are called from this life we may be pardoned for our sins and rejoice in the company of blessed Matthew and all the saints.
May our prayers be accepted through Jesus Christ, friend of sinners.
Prayer for the week
you have taught us to pray to you as ‘Our Father’:
help us to see the world through your eyes,
and to love our neighbours with your love.
Show us how we can share with them
the knowledge and joy of our faith,
that they may be brought closer to you,
and enjoy the perfect freedom of your kingdom.
We make our prayer in the name of Jesus Christ,
our Lord and our God.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.