08 June , 2008 - X Sunday in Ordinary time - A
Today's readings continue the theme of last Sunday where Jesus said it is not enough to say "Lord, Lord..." so to be saved and enter the Kingdom of God. In fact, as we will see, very strange people seem to find their way into it. The Gospel reading describes the call of one - Matthew. Certainly, Matthew was a highly unlikely candidate for discipleship. After all, he was a tax collector.
Tax collectors were among the most despised group of people in Jewish society of the time. Tax collectors never can be particularly popular, given their distasteful job but in Jesus' time they were collecting taxes on behalf of a hated and pagan colonial ruler. As such they were seen as collaborators and traitors both to their own people and to their religion. The Romans had the custom of farming out the collection of taxes to volunteer agents. These paid up the amount that the Romans demanded and then had to get back the money from the people. In order to make a living from such work, they needed to collect more than they had paid the Romans. This was their "commission" but there was often an element of extortion and corruption in the whole practice.
Jesus now invites one of these despised people to be one of his chosen followers. We can imagine Matthew's astonishment at being picked out in this way. It is a perfect example of Jesus looking beyond the exterior and the stereotype to the potential of the real person inside. It is a lesson for us who tend so quickly to make negative judgments of people, to stereotype and to scapegoat, to write people off. Matthew, the presumed avaricious tax agent, simply abandons his post, leaves everything behind and, full of trust, goes off after Jesus with little idea of what is in store for him. Our God is indeed a God of surprises.
Jesus' enemies followed the custom of their country and milled about Matthew's mansion. The supper was held in a courtyard to catch a breeze and so was visible. They watched the sumptuous party with disgust. During the meal, they shouted to the apostles, "Why does your Master eat with such a sinner?"
The point of challenging the apostles was both: to embarrass them at their cooperation in violating Jewish customs and to turn them against Jesus.
But Christ was buying none of it. He threw in the faces of the enemies an ancient Greek proverb that has entered the world's literature, "It is not those who are healthy who have need of a physician but rather those who are sick." Those words were the first Gospel declaration of the character of the ministry He would follow. It would be a ministry to sinners and so the origin of his centuries-old title, Christ the physician of souls.
Then He dismissed His enemies like so many school boys with a passage from the Old Testament which they knew backwards and forwards. "Go home and find out what the words mean: it is mercy that wins favor with me, not sacrifice. I have come to call sinners, not the just." If you wondered about the depth of
I have a question for you:
Please imagine that you see me in a sinking boat. I have a very fun time, I am fishing, enjoying beautiful weather, sunshine, I am enjoying my out door time … But you see that my boat is sinking. You see –because you have the better perspective- that I am in danger, that in few minutes time I will sink with my boat.
What will you do? Will you say: “OK. This is none of my business. He is adult and mature; he knows what he is doing. I shouldn’t intervene or be involved. It will only cause me problems and troubles.” Will you react like that and walk away? Or rather … you will try to save me, to organize a rescue?
You will certainly try to help me, even if I say that everything is OK, and I am well. Even if I don’t see the danger of my situation you will not abandon me. Maybe because you know me, maybe because you like me … maybe because you feel obliged?
But let us imagine another situation. You see somebody committing suicide, for example staying on the tall bridge ready to jump down into the strong and powerful stream of Saskatchewan River. What will you do? Will you pass by without trying to help this stranger? Or will you rather try to persuade, to convince him that the life is worthy to be lived and beautiful, that he is in the danger but everything will certainly change? You will not abandon this poor guy even if you don’t know him.
This is what Jesus is doing in today’s Gospel. He comes to Matthew and says: “You are in danger, you are on the sinking boat, but I can help you, I can rescue you. You have only to follow me. And, what is the answer of Matthew?
“He got up and followed Him”. He didn’t try to justify himself, he didn’t try to neglect his situation, he didn’t say: “OK, take it easy, I am fine”. “He got up and followed Jesus with joy and thankfulness.
Jesus can come into our lives as he came to St. Matthew - life like a physician who gives hope to a desperate patient.
Will I still maintain that I am OK? Will I stubbornly deny that I am not sick and I don’t need any help?
Jesus tries to tell me only: You are not able to save yourself. As long as you consider yourself well and righteous you are in danger and you can not be cured.
On the other hand, there are some here today who think they are such miserable sinners that God could not forgive them. This incident with Matthew, ex-sinner, should make them realize that God is saying, "I am not He who damns, for my name is Jesus. I am here to save you, but you have to recognize that you NEED ME!!! AND MY HELP.” As long as you pretend that everything is OK, I cannot rescue you.
St. John in his first letter (1:8-10) says: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
I will even dare to say that any spirituality which denies the basic condition of our human life – the sin – is not authentic, and for me is very suspicious, and even more – deceptive and dangerous. I cannot save myself!!!