Sunday, September 21, 2014
Homily for The Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
Matthew 9:9-13; Ephesians 4:7-16; Ezekiel 2:8 – 3:11
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Matthew was a tax collector. We all know that. Most of the youngest children in our congregation know that from their Sunday School classes. So what? Well, a lot! That Matthew was a tax collector is to say that he was the worst of the worst in first century Jewish culture. Why were tax collectors so bad and so despised and hated by the people? Because they were Jews who collected taxes from their Jewish brothers, sisters, and neighbors for the hated, occupying, imperialistic Romans, that’s why! And, more than that, tax collectors notoriously over-collected and kept the extra for themselves. Today we call that extortion! So, tax collectors were living high-on-the-hog at the expense of their countrymen. They were hated and they were despised and, I suspect you would agree that they earned the reputation they had, and for good reason!
Why did Jesus choose and call Matthew to be a disciple. Well, truly only the Lord knows! But, we could ask the same question concerning any of the disciples, even the prophets and the patriarchs. Why did Jesus call Peter? Why did God call Isaiah, Elijah, Moses, or Abraham? Why has Jesus called you? To be sure, there was nothing in Matthew that men would account as virtuous or meritorious. Surely even Matthew would confess the same. But, that’s precisely the point Jesus was making. After all, who was looking on when Jesus called Matthew but the self-righteous Pharisees? I can almost imagine our Lord scanning the crowd looking for just the right soul to make the Pharisees squirm and stumble. “Ah! The tax collector! Matthew, come hear my son! Follow me!” And, Matthew got up immediately at the Word of Jesus and followed Him. Then Jesus went with Matthew to his home and He ate a meal with him. And, who was there at Matthew’s house but many other tax collectors and sinners. Well, the Pharisees got the message, and they were furious. They asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And, hearing of this, Jesus made His point more clearly saying, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”
And, so, the answer to the question, “Why Matthew?” is the same as to the questions, “Why Isaiah? Why Elijah? Why Moses and Abraham? Why you?” Jesus means to make the point that tax collectors and sinners are no different than prophets and patriarchs or even you. And Jesus means to make the point to the Pharisees that they also are sin-sick unto death and need the healing of the Great Physician – forgiveness. But, since they will not admit and confess that they are sick, that they are sinners in need of forgiveness, they will not receive healing forgiveness, because they will not receive the Great Physician – they will not receive Jesus.
Matthew held no belief that he had any worth, value, or merit to Jesus. He knew his sinful shortcomings all too well. Indeed, they were on display in the public square for all the world to see. Thus, when the Great Physician called him saying, “Follow me!” Matthew gladly left all that behind. Moreover, Matthew himself had to be stunned, as were the Pharisees, when Jesus came to his own home to dine with him. There, in the midst of Mathew’s sin-filled life, his sin-filled home, filled with his sin-filled friends, Jesus comes to forgive and heal. In fact, Jesus’ dining with the tax collectors and sinners was a demonstration of their justification, that Jesus had made them right with God again. Jesus forgave them and made them clean. Only the unclean can be made clean. Only sinners can be forgiven. Only the sick can be healed. The truth is that we are all sin-sick unto death – every last Pharisee of us all! – but Jesus has come to heal and to forgive us, and He gives us the meal of His body and blood as a sign of our justification and restoration, and even more, He communes with us, His Bride, flesh and blood in a one-flesh union.
Matthew was empty. He was empty of Himself. Therefore, the Lord saw fit to fill him with His Spirit, His Word, His mercy and His grace. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” In the same way the LORD said to Ezekiel, “Open your mouth and eat what I give you.” Then the LORD gave Ezekiel a scroll of a book and commanded him to eat it and then go and speak to the house of Israel. The Word that was given to Ezekiel was a Word of lamentation and mourning and woe, for it was a Word of Law against the hard foreheads and the stubborn hearts of Israel. Still, this Word was sweet in Ezekiel’s mouth, for the Law of God, just as the Gospel, is sweet and good and righteous and true. But the LORD promised to equip Ezekiel for this work. The LORD said, “Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks.” And, the Lord likewise equipped Matthew and all the Apostles; and so does He equip His pastors and preachers today. And so does He equip you who “trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.”
Matthew, who had nothing, received everything from the Lord. He was given the Word of the Lord to proclaim in His Gospel which tells the coming of the true King of Israel, and of heaven and earth, who rules in grace, mercy, and righteousness, forgiving the sins of the repentant and terrified and healing their sin-sickness unto death and its ravaging effects upon humanity and all creation. Of King Jesus, the Psalmist writes, “When He ascended on high He led a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.” King Jesus descended from the throne of God to the earth, humbling Himself to be born of a virgin. He was obedient even unto death upon the cross. Being well pleased with His Son, God the Father raised Him from the dead and gave Him the Name that is above every Name – a Name to which every knee must necessarily bow and every tongue confess as Lord and King to the glory of God the Father. Having ascended back to the Father, the first fruits of all who will be raised in Him, He has sent forth His Spirit to equip the saints “for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” He has given His Church “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” to proclaim the Word of the LORD in its truth and purity and to faithfully administer the Sacraments our Lord instituted for the benefit of His people until He returns. This Word He gives to you that you may not be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, and by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” This Word He gives to you that you may speak the truth in love and so build up the whole body of Christ in love.
The same love Christ showed to Matthew and the other tax collectors and sinners, to prostitutes, lepers, and the unclean, He shows to you again, and again, and again that you may know His love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, and peace and share it and show it with those who have not known and who have not heard. “Follow me,” your Lord Jesus says to you. Even now He is present to recline at table with you. Only tax collectors and sinners, liars and cheats, and those who struggle with anger, the unforgiving and the unmerciful, the lustful and the adulterous, the slothful and the gluttonous, and those who are sick need come. This feast is for you. It is the medicine of immortality for your soul, even the Great Physician of body and soul Himself. Our Lord, who is mercy and sacrifice, desires mercy and not sacrifice from you. This means, He does not desire your ritual obedience, but the LORD desires that you show and share His mercy to others. Jesus “came not to call the righteous,” thanks be to God, “but sinners.” Jesus has come to call Matthew, Isaiah, Elijah, Moses, Abraham, and even you. “Follow me,” Jesus says, “And I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.