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.