Saturday, September 21, 2013

St. Matthew and Imperfection

I can't say that I was all that taken with the lessons this morning for St. Matthew the Evangelist Day.  For some reason, they just didn't grab me.  That could be because I read them at about 5:30am.  For some reason, I woke up after only five hours of sleep... and then stayed awake for about 90 minutes when I finally was able to close my eyes again, and get some more much needed rest.

When I woke up, and thought again about St. Matthew, what was calling to me was the passage in Chapter 9 of the Gospel that bears his name.  Jesus, upon seeing Matthew, entreats him to quit the tax collecting business and come follow, which Matthew does.   Remembering that tax collectors were the low-lifes of Jesus' day, this is another moment of Jesus seeking out the least likely to join his team.  And, as a Jewish tax collector, Matthew was definitely among the least likely... and the least liked... in his society.   The scene after Matthew accepts the call has Jesus at dinner and not only eating presumably with his new follower Matthew, but many tax collectors and sinners of all kinds.   The Pharisees, who are always depicted as rule-bound grumps in the Gospels, are again kvetching that Jesus is breaking bread with all the icky people.  Jesus hears their complaint and answers:

"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." --Matt 9:12b-13

As I lay in bed thinking about this statement, I thought about those things which seem to hold me back from moving forward with my own call to follow Christ.  Being gay is not a problem, certainly not a problem for me following Christ.  And now, we even have the Roman Catholic Pope Francis I saying that he doesn't think being gay prevents someone from being in relationship with God (I'm waiting to see how long this pope can keep up the enlightened statements before somebody puts a muzzle on him).  But I told my spiritual director at my last visit that I have felt the pressure from other corners in the church that demand that if I am to continue following the path I believe I am called to follow in living more fully into the stature of Christ, then I must not only be spotless in my character; I need to be hermetically-sealed perfection.  I know that I am not.  I have done and left undone things in my life that have hurt others.  When I was at Sewanee standing in front of that Corpus Christi at the Chapel of the Apostles, I was giving all of that and then some to this representation of Christ.  And that's when I saw the Christ on that cross let out a deep sigh as if to say, "Let it go!"  And there was a question: if I am able to say a mantra, 'I am in Christ, and Christ is in me,' then am I able to see the Christ in me?   

How I interpret that question is to look at how I am treating myself.  Am I so focused on my short-comings that I am unable to see how even those short-comings can be turned to good with the Christ that is in me... if I'll just shut up, relax, and let Christ lead?   God... through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ... has not sought out me or you or anyone who was so damn perfect that they have no dents or dings in their character.  The ones who are so above reproach are the ones who are "well" and have no need of a physician.  They are the ones so convinced of their own righteousness, and can look around and pick out the ones who are unrighteous.  Good for them because they simply are directing Christ where he must venture deeper to find the ones who need to hear the liberating love of God.

Matthew, like all of us who are odd, off-beat, and unlikely seekers, probably rejoiced in his heart that somebody, a fellow Jew in particular, didn't spit at him, but invited him to follow.  That invitation is still extended to this day to all of us misfits.  Follow, and accept the grace that is given freely to you. 


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