Devotion and Prayer for Week of September 28, 2014

Meditation for the Week of September 28, 2014

  

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, 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, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners,” (Matthew 9:9—13).

 

If you want to know the truth about someone, the real truth, you will probably ask others what their opinion is about a person. Employers do this all of the time. Sure, they get a great deal of information from the person they are interviewing, but they don’t leave it at that. They ask for references. They want to be sure that they prospective employee hasn’t painted a picture of themselves that’s just a little too pretty.

We all know that temptation. When speaking about ourselves, it’s easy to be a little more generous than we should be. We fill our resumes with our accomplishments and our greatest successes. We’ve certainly all had our share of failures—but those tend not to make it on the resume. So we know if we want to get a realistic picture of what someone is like, while the testimony of the individual is helpful, we also probably need some information from outsiders, too.

Which is what makes St. Matthew’s description about himself all the more astonishing. He tells us he was a tax collector. In those days, nobody wanted to see the taxman. Not only because it meant they had to pay their dues to Caesar, but also because it was well known that tax collectors always took a little extra for themselves. Tax collectors were in the extortion business. Which is why it’s all the more interesting that in his Gospel, this is the one piece of information St. Matthew gives us about himself. We’re not told much, but what we do know is quite unflattering.

This is remarkable, and it illustrates the apostle’s understanding of grace. He wasn’t interested in putting himself forward in the best light possible. That’s what the Pharisees were after. They found it utterly scandalous that Jesus would eat with “tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 9:11). They didn’t like that Jesus ate with, and even called, a sinful man to follow him.

Those who don’t see their own sinfulness complain about this. The Pharisees thought it was perfectly natural for Jesus to eat with them. They didn’t realize that they were just as sick with sin as Matthew or anybody else. They thought they were better than they actually were. We are very gracious with ourselves when it comes to our own sin, but when it comes to others; we are not quite so generous.

Matthew was okay being a sinner, because he knew that Jesus came not to call the righteous, but sinners (Matthew 9:13). He knew those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick (9:12). Matthew knew that it would have been a terrible mistake to see himself more highly than he ought, because this would detract from the greatness of his Lord. He knew that Jesus didn’t come to help “pretty good people” out of a tight spot, but that He came to make sinners into saints and bring the dead to life. Matthew knew his sin was great, but he also knew that his Savior was greater.

St. Matthew shows us that it’s a bad thing to downplay our sinfulness. If we do this, we will end up like the Pharisees, thinking we’re better than we are and thinking more poorly of others than we ought. And worst of all, when we minimize our sin, we also minimize our Savior.

The thing that makes St. Matthew so great is the same thing that has made all of the other faithful prophets, apostles, and preachers great: they knew it wasn’t about them, but about their Savior. Matthew tells us only one thing about himself, and it’s the only thing we need to know: he’s a sinner. But he tells us a great deal about Jesus. And so our Lord gave him the high privilege of being one of four evangelists who were charged with writing down the story of our Lord. He is not there to talk about himself, to entertain the people with cute stories or put on a good show. He’s a sinner, and he knows it. And this is precisely what makes him an ideal candidate to receive the Lord’s mercy and preach the Gospel.

Jesus calls sinners to follow Him; both in Matthew’s time and also today. But He only calls sinners. Only sinners know the debt they’ve been forgiven and the depth of the Lord’s mercy. The righteous have no need of a physician, but the sick—and by His stripes, we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

 

 

Our Weekly Prayer

Faithful Lord, just as you once called St. Matthew to follow You and preach the Gospel, so also You call us into the Church that You might forgive, renew, and lead us that we might also be Your faithful disciples and heralds of Your Word. Grant us to know the greatness of our sin that we might likewise know the greatness of our Savior: through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.