Monday, September 21, 2009

St. Matthew

Saint Matthew and The Angel, Rembrandt Van Rijn, 1655
"As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, 'Follow me!'. And he got up and followed him."--Matthew 9:9
Just like that! No questions. No looking for the hidden clauses and exceptions. No, "OK, but let me just finish this one ledger entry." Matthew, the tax collector, heard the call and went along. Yesterday, I was talking about how children were among the easily ignored and powerless. Not true of the tax collectors. They weren't ignored; they were just widely despised... same as today. Matthew and his professional associates were agents of the emperor, a major thorn in the side to the Jewish inhabitants who were constantly faced with seeing Roman soldiers and forced to use currency with Caesar's face. And Matthew, being Jewish himself, was likely seen as the biggest jerk among jerks because he was imposing the taxes on his own people.
And along comes Jesus who is gathering up the people he needs to carry on his work, and he picks the tax collector?! Da nerve!!
That's what the Pharisees thought to. The Pharisees get a rough treatment in the gospels even though further scholarship shows them to have not been the most rigid of the Jewish groups of the First Century. They are a bit like today's Reformed Jews as opposed to the Orthodox Jews who keep strictly kosher and such. Nonetheless, Matthew's gospel goes on:
"And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners sat with him and the disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, 'Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?' But when he heard this, he said, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners."--Matthew 9:10-13
In fact, Jesus collected all kinds of people on the fringes. Just as I believe God is calling out today and still tapping those marginal people to taste and see how good it is to return to God. If you think about it, the people who are already the "in" crowd are already at the party, so inviting them in is reduntant. It's those who are still standing on the outside that God is seeking. And what better way to bring the outsider in than to show them, in flesh and blood, that, "Yes, even you, O despised and hated one, are a guest welcome in my Father's house!"
To me, the presence of a St. Matthew amongst the apostles is another in the countless, hundreds of examples of why having women, LGBT people, and all minorities in the priesthood is a fulfillment of God's will. Nothing says, "Welcome" to a person in the minority more than to see one of their own standing at the front of the congregation as a leader. Certainly, I've heard it from people at my own church, both gay and straight, how pleased they are that I serve as a Eucharistic Minister. For gay people, especially in a region of the country where the church has been a leading voice for homophobia, seeing another gay person as part of the altar party says, "OK, this is a safe place!" At the same time, straight people, who have become disillusioned by the hypocrisy of the message, "Jesus loves me, but he can't stand you!" that has been out there for so many years, also see the minority minister (ordained and otherwise) as a symbol of a healthier, more inclusive, and more "present" church. Churches that celebrate the inclusion of all members in all of our "otherness", I think, probably look a whole lot more like the rag tag bunch that Jesus enticed to "follow me!" than those that would shut the door in the face of a gay person.
Just as at the time of the calling of St. Matthew, I believe that God's will is being done on earth as it is heaven. The outcast will no longer be a stranger. The broken-hearted will be comforted. And the Church will be made better because of it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said my dear and I think it is so true and I hope you continue to do the work at St. John's and I am pleased about it.