Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Feast of St. Matthew the Apostle and Evangelist: A Devotional Commentary

Ezekiel 2:8-3:11 But you, son of man, hear what I tell you; don’t be rebellious like that rebellious house: open your mouth, and eat that which I give you. When I looked, behold, a hand was put forth to me; and, behold, a scroll of a book was therein; He spread it before me: and it was written within and without; and there were written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe. He said to me, Son of man, eat that which you find. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and he caused me to eat the scroll. He said to me, Son of man, cause your belly to eat, and fill your bowels with this scroll that I give you. Then I ate it; and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. He said to me, Son of man, go to the house of Israel, and speak my words to them. For you are not sent to a people of a strange speech and of a hard language, but to the house of Israel; not to many peoples of a strange speech and of a hard language, whose words you can not understand. Surely, if I sent you to them, they would listen to you. But the house of Israel will not listen to you; for they will not listen to me: for all the house of Israel are obstinate and hard-hearted. Behold, I have made your face hard against their faces, and your forehead hard against their foreheads. As an adamant harder than flint have I made your forehead: don’t be afraid of them, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house. Moreover he said to me, Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears. Go to them of the captivity, to the children of your people, and speak to them, and tell them, Thus says the Lord Yahweh; whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear.

Ephesians 4:7-14 But to each one of us was the grace given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Therefore he says, “When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.” Now this, “He ascended,” what is it but that he also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. He gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, shepherds and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, to the work of serving, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we may no longer be children, tossed back and forth and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error;

Matthew 9:9-13 As Jesus passed by from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax collection office. He said to him, “Follow me.” He got up and followed him. It happened as he sat in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are healthy have no need for a physician, but those who are sick do. But you go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

St. Matthew was a sinner and he knew it. He was a tax collector. As much as people hate the IRS today, they had even more reason to hate tax collectors when Jesus walked the earth. Tax collectors not only collected money for the pagan emperor, they made their own money by charging more than the emperor demanded. Matthew was a professional extortioner. When Jesus had a meal, most of the time He chose to eat with the professional extortioners and sinners, rather than the "righteous." The righteous had not need for Him. The righteous may have found Jesus' knowledge of the Scriptures intriguing and may have enjoyed some theological debate with Him, but they didn't need Him. Jesus simply says to Matthew, "Follow me" and Matthew is up and running. Matthew sees his need for Jesus. Matthew knows his need for Jesus.

Jesus told the Pharisees that He desires mercy, not sacrifice. The Pharisees and dedicated their lives to the study of God's law. They had sacrificed their free time so that they could be experts in the law. They had given their lives to the Lord. They weren't like these "nominal" Jews who continued to live in sin. They were "real" Jews. They had no mercy for sinners because they had no knowledge of how bad their own sin was. They could not allow themselves to be influenced and tainted by having fellowship with these sinners.

We act the same way. We look down on those who struggle with sins that we don't struggle with. We convince ourselves that we might make mistakes but we're not "sinners" like they are.

But Jesus came for sinners. Jesus came for sinners like Matthew and you and me. Jesus is God's mercy for you. Jesus does not come and give you a list of things to do so that you can improve your life and be fit for the kingdom in the company of the Pharisees. Jesus takes your sins upon Himself. Jesus forgives you.

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