The Feast of Saint Matthew the Apostle
Sunday, 21 September 2008
A Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume
We thank thee, heavenly Father, for the witness of thine apostle and evangelist Matthew to the Gospel of thy Son our Saviour; and we pray that, after his example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
2 Timothy 3:14-17
Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Matthew the Apostle. What we know about
Matthew, we know mostly from the Gospel lesson we just heard. He was a tax collector,
a Jewish independent contractor who worked for the Roman authorities collecting tolls
and customs duties. These entrepreneurs would make their profits from the difference
between what they collected from travellers and merchants and the set tax rate the
Roman’s expected to receive. Tax collectors were considered by many to be either
collaborators with the Roman occupiers or profiteers or both. They were not popular
or esteemed. They were, however, probably just hard nosed businessmen making a living in the
midst of a complex and busy world (1).
Modern scholarship has completely rejected the idea that Saint Matthew the
Apostle was himself the author of the text that has come down to us as the Gospel of
Matthew. The text, produced some fifty to eighty years after Jesus death and
resurrection in and for a Jewish-Christian community probably in a Roman-Syrian
urban centre like our own Antioch, later came to be associated with Matthew, which
association gave the text a certain apostolic authority. Matthew could very well have
been, however, the founder of this community or its patron saint, someone with whom
the readers and hearers of the Gospel might identify, someone like them called out of
complex urban lives into relationship with the God of Israel in the person of Jesus
Indeed, we, too, might find resonance in the story of the Call of Saint Matthew.
Two weeks ago I spoke about how the increasingly, interconnected, complex, and
globalized world to which Saint Paul wrote his epistles is not as far removed from
twenty-first century New York as we might at first suppose. Indeed, the world of the
Gospels and especially of the Epistles, was one not just of fishermen, sowers, farmers,
and landowners, but also one of merchants, physicians, lawyers, building contractors,
academics, clergymen, soldiers, and government workers. This world, like ours, was
full of people who were doing their best to make a living, feed their families, plan for
their futures, and care for each other amidst momentous cultural, political, and
economic changes. The current turbulence on Wall Street, the anxiety about our
upcoming elections, and our continuing involvement in foreign wars are all concerns
that would resonate in turn with Matthew and his friends and neighbours.
So there was Matthew, sitting in his tax office, something like a cross between a
toll booth and one of those currency exchange store fronts you find in Italy today.
Jesus was walking past this place of quasi-government business, perhaps even himself
having to pay the tax required to pass, and he called out to Matthew. He called out to
someone that others may have thought unlikely to respond. He called out “follow me”
to someone considered to be doing a “dirty job,” asking him to be one of his followers.
And guess what? This is what Jesus is doing all the time. This is what Jesus does. He is
continually inviting people into relationship with him. He is continually inviting
unexpected, even scandalous, people into relationship with him. He is continually
inviting people like you and me, into relationship with him. And probably just because
he was asked, probably just because someone reached out to him in a way that others
had not, Matthew answered yes, and not simply with words, but with his body “and he
rose and followed him.”
What is more, Jesus’ invitation is not simply to follow him, but in following him
he invites us to break bread with him, to share fellowship and relationship with him in
the most truly human and nourishing way possible. Matthew goes from his tax office
and joins Jesus and his followers for a meal at which we find other people, who like
Matthew were considered to be less than savoury. These were the “tax collectors and
sinners” who, while some may have been on the wrong side of both civil and Jewish
law, were really just people like us, involved in professions and lives that by their very
nature mean they can’t live up to all the commandments of the law (2).
Jesus shares meals, which were the principal ritual event at which people
gathered daily with anyone who wanted to be there, anyone who felt drawn into
relationship with him. Jesus, still recognised by his critics as a legitimate rabbi, a
legitimate teacher in the Jewish tradition, broke the conventions of his day and
extended the religious life to those outside the religious system. Jesus outraged his
pious critics who demanded to know why he ate with these “tax collectors and sinners,”
why he ate with people who were not your typical, religious, observant regular temple-
goers. To them, Jesus answered, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
In short Jesus demonstrated in his own actions that to live a life of faith, a life of
relationship with him and with God, you did not have to be a conventionally pious
person. What was required was a heart burning to know and love God and a
willingness to live a life that showed forth that knowledge and that love. Matthew and
those other tax collectors and sinners, although they may not have been regular in
their attendance at worship and may have broken an individual law here and there, all
saw that God called to them where they were, not waiting for them to get “better” first.
Jesus called to them in the midst of their complicated lives and asked them to be in
relationship with him, asked them to share table fellowship with him, life sustaining
table fellowship that connected them with him and one another. Jesus showed them,
showed Matthew, that he loves them for who they are and shows them that each is
capable of sharing and giving the love of God.
Jesus shows us the same thing. Jesus shows each and every one of us—like Matthew, tax collectors and sinners that we are—that we are loved for who we are. He shows us that he has hopes for us that we may live in love and relationship with him and with one another. He invites all his followers to a meal, this meal, in which Jesus is present with us and in which we are transformed into his Body. It is our choice whether we heed this call, our choice whether we get up out of our seats, come to the communion rail, and follow him, our choice whether when we leave this building we keep following the one who leads us down difficult pathways as we pursue and emulate his Gospel of Love. And I pray, brothers and sisters, that each of us will choose to say yes and, like Matthew, follow him Body and Soul. Amen.
Andrew Charles Blume+
New York City
Edward Bouverie Pusey, 18 September 2008
(1) Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, Sacra Pagena (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991), 127-128.
(2) Harrington 1991, 128.
©2008 Andrew Charles Blume