By Elizabeth Baumann
A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 9:9-17
9 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. 10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. 17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
Sometimes, I’ve tried to imagine what the apostles were thinking when they were called. Clearly God prepared Peter to recognize the sign of the miraculous catch of fish. I wonder if Andrew was strongly gripped by faith in his brother as much as in Jesus at first. I see John’s youthful enthusiasm.
Then there’s Matthew, sitting in a tax office. In today’s lesson, he’s recounting his own call, and yet there are almost no details. Jesus sees Matthew, Jesus calls Matthew, and Matthew comes. That’s it. But it’s not hard to imagine more.
Tax collectors were hated. Matthew must have been used to being loathed. All he had going for him was money. When you don’t have money, it’s easy to imagine it can make you happy, but I’ve yet to hear a millionaire claim that it does. They all seem to testify to the opposite. Matthew must have found out for himself that having just money was miserable. Sitting in his tax office, he was at the bottom of his barrel.
But Jesus sees him. It may well have been the first time in a long time that someone looked at Matthew and saw a person. Jesus calls him. Unlike everyone else, Jesus wanted Matthew. For Matthew, that was enough; he leaves his money behind.
Conversions have always been common in places where people come to the bottoms of their barrels. Those in greater danger are the ones who have a lot of distractions keeping us from noticing the poverty of our souls. It’s actually really hard; modern life is a cacophony of distractions. If Matthew had a screen to be looking at, he probably wouldn’t have even noticed Jesus looking at him. So here’s a challenge in honor of Matthew: today take a few minutes to shut out all the distractions and just see Jesus looking at you.
Elizabeth Baumann is a seminary graduate, a priest’s wife, and the mother of two small daughters. A transplant from the West Coast, she now lives in “the middle of nowhere” in the Midwest with too many cats.
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Episcopal Church in Minnesota
The Diocese of Garissa (Anglican Church of Kenya)