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The kindness of Jesus, the calling of Matthew

Editor’s note: This post draws once more on the Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham: Daily Prayer for the Ordinariate, in order to provide an Anglican reading for the celebration of the church’s year. Today is the Feast of St. Matthew, and below is a reading from John Keble’s sermon, “Our Lord’s Condescending Kindness to Penitents.” 

It is significant that John Keble begins by figuring St. Matthew as the “typical” businessman, whose only concern is money. Jesus meets him right at the place of his concern, calling him to repent, and yet stays in that place, according to Keble. Jesus shows himself to be concerned also with everyday work and conversation. 

“It came to pass, as Jesus sat to eat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners can and sat down with him and his disciples” (Matt. 9:10).

See here the extreme condescension and tender love of Jesus Christ, for the worst and most miserable sinners. The holy evangelist St. Matthew seems himself astonished at the remembrance of it. Behold, says he; as if it were something wonderful, something more than could be looked for, even from Christ’s unspeakable mercy: that he should sit at meat in a publican’s and sinner’s house, and that many of the like sort should be permitted to come and sit down with him. Such, no doubt, had been St. Matthew’s feeling at the time: and such it continued so long afterwards, twenty or thirty years perhaps, when he came to write it down in his gospel. For he, St. Matthew’s own self, was the person to whom this great thing happened.

He had been, a little before, called suddenly by Jesus Christ, when sitting at this ordinary work. Like a rich merchant, a lawyer, or a shop-keeper, who has many various accounts to settle; whose time is take up, from morning till night, with calls of business which he is forced to attend to: all of them, more or less, turning his thoughts towards money, as if the gain, or the loss of it were the great business of life: such was Matthew, as he sat at the receipt of custom: and if you would wonder to see such a one rise up suddenly at the call of some holy man, leave his accounts, his treasures, and his gainful employments, and devote himself entirely to the more immediate service of God, you may in some measure judge, with what adoring love and thankfulness the great Apostle [and] Evangelist would remember the moment of his call: all the loving looks, gracious words, and merciful condescension of his God and Saviour towards him.

We know how Abraham rejoiced, when he had entertained angels unawares: but here is the God and Creator of the angels coming to sit down to meat in in the house of one, whom he had no long before called out of the dangerous ways of the wicked heathen world. For the publicans, or Roman tax-gatherers, were not only wicked persons, generally speaking, but even positive heathens; and St. Matthew, though a Jew, must have been, by his calling, brought into frequent companionship with such.

How then must he have been transported and overpowered, what a bowing down of heaven to earth must it have appeared to him, when the holy Jesus vouchsafed to enter under his roof: to sit at meat there, where so often profane and wicked persons had been, indulging in profane and wicked discourse: and not only so, but as the publicans and sinners, one by one, entered in, and took their places at the same board with the holy and divine Visitor: how must the saint’s heart have been filled with the thought of the same mercy offered to each of them, whereof he had himself so happily partaken!

What joy to him to hope, that by inviting them to meet our Lord, he might do something, under God, unworthy as he was, towards changing their hearts and saving their souls! And then what an enduring inexhaustible comfort, to perceive that his Redeemer’s purpose was, not only to call sinners once for all, but to abide with them, after he had called them: to be their helper as well as their converter: to abide with them not only in church-services, and where they appear before him solemnly as penitents, but also in all the ordinary concerns of life, in their business and refreshment, their meals and conversations.


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