Ten Minute Sermons
The Feast of St. Matthew
So, what do you want to be when you grow up? This question is often asked by adults feebly trying to engage a youngster in conversation. When I was in college my friends would ask me, "So, what do you want to be when you FINALLY grow up?" .
In looking at our reading today from the Gospel of St. Matthew, we can get a pretty good idea of the Christian's answer to that age old question. We will answer this question by looking at the individuals that are central to this well known story.
I asked my daughter, Katie, that question last night and she answered, "I want to be a music teacher". Thank goodness she didn't say, "I want to be a Pharisee". The Pharisees were always at odds with Jesus throughout the Gospels. They were trying to piously follow "the law", yet never quite got the underlying message of God's Word. They were, in a sense, "human doings" rather than "human beings". Self centered, they were more interested in their own piety than in lifting up others. No, I don't want to be a Pharisee when I grow up.
So, my daughter wants to be a music teacher. Thank goodness she didn't say she wanted to work for the IRS. All of us fall short of God's expectations, yet hopefully none of us aspire to be sinners/tax collectors. These individuals were as far from godliness as the Pharisees, but, at least in the case of Matthew, God was able to touch a heart. But still, when I grow up I don't want to be, I don't want to remain, a sinner.
So, who do you want to be when you grow up? Well, actually, that is the wrong question. A better question is "what does God want us to be as we grow up", as we grow to Christian maturity. The individual in this story we need to look to is Jesus.
Jesus was a pious Jew who perfectly kept the law, and in being perfectly pious His heart was open for the people around him. He wasn't just "doing" what was required by the law; he was "being" the embodiment of what God desired. He is not a "human doing", He is the personification of what it means to be a "human being".
How? Jesus reminds us what God demands of His people, "It is mercy I wish, not sacrifice". (Hos 6:6)
Here, Jesus offers what Jesus has always has always offered, the healing of the world through mercy. By "mercy": think "steadfast love".
Think of God's mercy in this instance. Jesus is surrounded by tax collectors and sinners. "Sinner" is perhaps better translated from the Hebrew as "impious Jew": secular Jews who did not follow God's holy Word, individuals who are sinning, not against their fellow man, but against God Himself. Likewise, these tax collectors cheat their fellow man as representatives of the pagan Roman government. Both groups love themselves more than they love God or their neighbors. Both groups are sinning against God.
Yet here is God, mercifully in their midst. Jesus chooses to be with them despite their sins. He invites them to be healed. At least one, Matthew, grew in stature to the point where he was motivated to write God's inspiration in This Book.
So what are we, as the Church, growing daily in the fullness of Christ…what are we to do?
Jesus provides the atoning sacrifice on the cross. Here, we are reminded that, as Christians, we are to be merciful.
So, how do we do this?
I challenge you that next month is "Take a Tax Collector to Lunch Month".
No, it doesn't have to be an employee of the IRS. No, it doesn't have to be lunch for that matter. Rather, identify an individual who has sinned against you, and find the means of being merciful to them. Ease their burden, by forgiving them. In being merciful, not just doing a merciful act, but by steadfastly loving, you are following the example of Christ.
We know that God inspired Matthew to follow this example: mercy, steadfast love is a key theme seen throughout Matthew's account of the Gospel. Christ continues to inspire all members of His body, the Church, to mercy.
What do you want to be when you grow up? What does God want you to be, not do, but be, as you grow to maturity in His Church?
Merciful and Steadfastly Loving.