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.’
Today’s reading is one of my absolute favourites from the gospel narrative. Jesus goes up to someone who was an outcast from his own community and called him to: Follow me. We know that Jesus does this all the time, but what makes these verses so special for me is Matthew’s response: And he got up and followed him.
This week’s readings have built up to this moment. We have reflected on the human response of avoiding God’s call; the response of two ordinary men who were destined to become the foundation of the Christian Church; those who have questioned the relevance of Christ in their lives; and those whose piety is skin deep. Today we see a real sinner being called into Christ’s service … and his immediate response to that call.
In my ministry I have encountered many people who consider themselves ‘unworthy’ of God’s love. Those people have been very aware of their flaws and their weaknesses. They have looked into their own hearts and found themselves wanting. They have placed themselves alongside the scribes in yesterday’s reading, making the decision on Jesus’ behalf that there is ‘evil’ in their hearts. This may sound reasonable to some. After all, we are all human and, therefore, we are not perfect. But this is not a judgement we can make for ourselves. To condemn ourselves in this way is to reject God’s willingness to forgive those who truly repent, those who are prepared to turn around and follow a different path through this life.
In today’s reading Matthew is being given that opportunity, and he grabs it with enthusiasm and joy. A tax collector, a collaborator with the Romans, was seen as being beyond all hope. The gathering of monies to help continue the occupation of a brutal regime could not possibly be condoned, and this was Matthew’s job. But Jesus saw good in him. Jesus called him to abandon his old life, and Matthew did just that.
Jesus said: I have come to call not the righteous but sinners. Matthew’s response to Jesus’ call should be the model we seek to emulate in our daily lives. And when we are struck down with feelings of inadequacy and lack of worth, then we should remember why Jesus came to earth and journeyed through the human experience. He came to call us into righteousness, he did not come to condemn us.
Let us pray that we might hear Jesus’ call in our lives, and let us pray for the strength to follow Matthew’s example as we get up and follow him.