September 21

St. Matthew

With a single invitation, a money hungry extortionist took a chance at personal redemption. Jesus came to the tax collector Matthew and said, "Follow me." Matthew did, and changed the course of the movement we call Christianity. A man who charged whatever he could to make his money turned his heart and his literate abilities over to the task of evangelization. Tradition calls Matthew both Apostle and Evangelist.

First Reading: Ephesians 4:1-13

1 I, a prisoner for the LORD, encourage you to walk (throughout life in a manner) worthy of the call which you were called (by God), 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, putting up with one another in love, 3 quickly going around to keep unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 (There is) one Body and one Spirit, like you were called into the one hope of your call; 5 one LORD, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of us all, the one above all, through all, and in all.

7 By the measure of the gift of CHRIST, grace was given to each one of us. 8 So, it says:

"Having ascended into the heights, he led (those from) the captivity, he gave gifts to men."

9 What does "HE ascended" (really mean), unless, of course, that he also descended into lower portions of the earth? 10 The (ONE) having descended is also the (ONE) having ascended beyond all the heavens, so that he might fill all. 11 HE gave (those gifts to) apostles on the one hand, prophets, and evangelists, shepherds and teachers, on the other hand, 12 toward the preparing of the saints for the work of service, for the building of the body of CHRIST, 13 until all might come into faith and knowledge of the SON of God, into the total man, into measure of maturity of the fullness of CHRIST...

4:5-6 The emphasis on the "one" compared the unity of the community with the concept of monotheism Christians adopted from Judaism (see Deuteronomy 6:4). As God was "one," so should the community be.

4:6 "one God and Father of us all, the one above all, through all, and in all" The last phrase of 4:6 can refer to God's activity in his creation ("above everything, through everything, and in everything"). Or it can refer to his activity among people in the end times ("above everyone, through everyone, and in everyone"). The context argues for the later meaning.

4:7 "Having ascended into the heights, he led the captivity, he gave gifts to men." This verse came from Psalm 68:18. It was a reference to Moses, who led the captive Israelites into freedom and gave them the Law. The author used this verse and image to portray the glorified Lord in heaven, who led sinners to freedom and gave them the gift of the Spirit.

4:13 In Greek, the sentence continued for three more verses.

These verses from Ephesians cover many different theological themes: unity in the Church, the unity of God, the ministry of Christ, and leadership offices. The glue that holds these themes together was the image of Christ on high.

The author (ghost writing for Paul the prisoner) urged peace within the community and an eager pursuit of the Spirit. Many times, the cause of dissension within the ranks could be a simple misdirection of sight. When Christians stop looking to God as the core of personal life and begin to look to themselves, gossip and rancor would result.

When Christians did focus upon God, they should see unity: the uniqueness of divine nature (one God in the Trinity), the unique place of the Father (the one above all, through all, and in all), the unique mediator between God and humanity (Christ), and the unique power of God (the Spirit). The activity of God reflected his unity: one Church (the Body of Christ), one baptism, one hope God will act in the future. In other words, the author saw the ministry of the Church on earth as a mirror of God himself (not just his activities) in heaven. The unity of the Church was bound to the unity of God. Of course, when a local Church community was not united, not only did it take its sights from God, it sent mixed signals to the general culture. The Church must reflect God to show credible witness. Unity in the Church reflected the kind of God it worshiped.

The core of Christian unity and the image of God the Church professed lay in the activity of the exalted Christ. He came to earth, died (represented by his journey to "the depths of the earth" in the tomb) and rose to glory. Unlike many other biblical authors, this writer saw glory as more than spreading reputation. He viewed it in cosmic terms. The exalted Christ was transcendent, able to fill the universe with his presence. Notice the parallel between God's presence in 4:6 with that of the risen Christ in 4:10. The risen Christ now had a divine presence (which led to the doctrine he shared in the divine nature). Both the image and activity of God in the Church were the result of the glorified Christ. Christ revealed God as one in nature and purpose. He charged the Church to carry out that singular message in peace and ethical living.

How did the Church hope to accomplish its mission? Through the gifts of Christ. He gave the Church a leadership (not only in structure but in personalities) to guide the local communities into unity. But that was not the only goal for the leaders. They were to show the community the path to spiritual maturity. Again the glorified Christ was the model for such maturity. The author presented his image as the "total, complete man." He was the measure of spiritual growth. As his focus lay on the Father, so should the community lay its focus.

The image of the glorified Christ and the various themes in these verses can seem daunting to us. Peaceful unity, like faith, is both a gift from God and a human struggle. Yet if we look to the risen Lord as our model and our strength, we may find that we can progress in the spiritual life. We can become more peaceful, gentle, forgiving. Just because he is.

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Gospel: Matthew 9:9-13

9 Passing (along) from there, JESUS saw a man sitting at a tax table, called Matthew, and (HE) said to him, "Follow me." Having stood up, he followed HIM.

9:9 "a man sitting at a tax table" The tax table was a official place to collect individual taxes and business tolls (like a tax office). Sitting indicated a place of judgment (an official who "sat in" judgment).

In the verses that preceded the call of Matthew, Jesus cured the paralytic. In doing so, Jesus demonstrated his power to forgive sin. In other words, he could reconcile sinners with God. His actions, of course, caused scandal among the Pharisees.

Now Jesus would seek the immoral and the outcast. So, Jesus called Matthew, a despised tax collector. The local populace hated tax collectors for two reasons. First, the Romans established tax franchises to local citizens. In the eyes of their countrymen, collecting taxes for a foreign occupying power turned these tax men into traitors.

Second, the Romans allowed tax collectors to greatly enrich themselves above the amount Rome required. And the Romans backed these tax collectors with the power of the law. In other words, tax collectors could (and did!) embezzle a fortune from the common people. So the people saw tax collectors as cheats.

When Jesus called Matthew, Matthew stood up and left his livelihood to follow the Lord. The call of Jesus led to Matthew's conversion. No longer did Matthew stand as a traitor and a cheat to the people. He would follow the One who would usher in the Kingdom!

10 It happened (that JESUS) was reclining in a house, and Look! many tax collectors and sinners were reclining together with Jesus and his disciples. 11 Having seen, the Pharisees said to HIS disciples, "Why does your TEACHER eat with tax collectors and sinners?"

9:10 "JESUS was reclining in a house" In the time of Jesus, Jews had adopted the Greek position of dining. People lay on their left sides around a low table and dipped bread into common dishes with their right hands.

"a house" The owner of the house can not be determined. Two possible owners could be Matthew or Jesus.

"Look! many tax collectors and sinners were reclining together with Jesus and his disciples." Matthew used the emphatic phrase "Look!" to make the point Jesus and his followers shared table fellowship with tax collectors and sinners.

"Sinners" were not only people who lived immoral lives. In the broader sense, Jews called anyone who lived outside Judaism proper, "sinners." Hence, Gentiles and outcasts from the community were "sinners."

Jesus acted in a way that caused scandal. He went out of his way to reach everyone, including the sick, the outsiders, and the misfits. And he included them in his circle of friends.

The dispute between the Pharisees and Jesus turned on this point. While Jesus and his followers were outsiders, the Pharisees were insiders. They extolled a lifestyle so faithful to God's Law they "built a fence around the Torah" with their rules and regulations. Their goal was to be "holy, as God is holy." (Leviticus 11:44) In this case, "holy" meant "unique" as well as "undefiled." Jews were to live as a "people set apart" for God. (1 Kings 8:53) The lifestyle the Pharisees taught meant separation from those who did not live God's Law. And total concentration on living his Law. They implicitly had an "us" vs "them" mentality. No wonder they asked the question about Jesus!

Jesus didn't mind getting himself "dirty" with the outsiders. While he honored and kept the Jewish Law, he did not mind making himself "un-kosher" in the eyes of the Pharisees for the good of those he served. As much as the Pharisees defined themselves as exclusive, Jesus became inclusive. He reached out to the undesirable and the untouchable. He wanted to bring them into the Kingdom.

12 But (JESUS,) having heard, said, "The (ones) being strong (in health) do not have need of a doctor, but the (ones) doing poorly (have need). 13 Going (away), learn what is (meant by) 'I want mercy, not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

9:12 "doing poorly" is literally "having badly."

9:13 'I want mercy, not sacrifice' is from Hosea 12:7. Hosea criticized the priestly establishment who led the people in hollow worship, while they dealt in corrupt practices. Such worship and practices caused cynicism among the populace. Ironically, the Pharisees would have used this verse against the Sadducees (the party of the Temple elite in Jerusalem) for the same reason.

Jesus responded to the Pharisees' question with three statements: a medical analogy, a verse from the prophet Hosea and a statement of intent. Notice the medical analogy and statement of intent "sandwich" the scripture verse. Both set up contrasts: the healthy/righteous on one hand, the sick/sinner on the other. Since the contemporaries of Jesus drew a causal relation between sin and sickness, the contrast between Jesus and the doctor made some sense. After all, Jesus did forgive the sins of the paralytic in the previous narrative (Matthew 9:2-6)! So, he was the "doctor" to the sinners.

As the note above mentioned, Jesus used a scripture verse the Pharisees treasured against them. The Pharisees sighted the verse from Hosea to criticize the Temple elite. At the heart of their critique was the question: what did God prize more, prayer or compassion? Obviously, the religious lifestyle required both. But when prayer and worship overshadow the good of others, there was an imbalance. When Jesus quoted Hosea to the Pharisees, he posed the same challenge, but a different context. This time, the people were not the oppressed faithful, but the outsiders. Was God just the Lord of the faithful? Or was he God of all, for all? This was the question Jesus laid at the feet of the Pharisees.

Matthew the sinner became Matthew the evangelizer. He heard the call of Jesus to not only change, but to join a movement of converted sinners who would go out and tell the world of One who changed them. Jesus call us to follow him, as well. We are to walk in the footsteps of Matthew, turning away from our past lives and spreading the Good News of Jesus.

How have you turned your life over to the Lord? How has his call encouraged you to share your faith with others?