Feast of St. Matthew, Diocesan DOK Fall Meeting, Church of the Good Shepherd, Nashville

“As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me’” (Matt. 9:9).

St. Matthew, like St. John, was both an apostle and an evangelist: that is, he was one of the twelve apostles that Jesus called to his service, but also identified as an author of one of the four Gospels (an evangelist, in other words). Matthew is best known, then, from the Gospel that bears his name; the use of Matthew as a first, or Christian, name is probably directly related to his familiarity as a Gospel writer.

Our Gospel reading today, however, focuses our attention on St. Matthew as an apostle, as one called by Jesus himself and sent into the world in his service. An ancient poem by St. Ambrose describes the apostles as “the princes of the church,” those who were “triumphant leaders” (as the poem says) of the early Christian movement. The poem is in our hymnal though the text is not that well known. Ambrose’s text makes plain that Jesus is the head and source; yet the poem reminds us of and celebrates their crucial leadership.  The apostolic ministry Christ shared with them, and which they shared with others, made them leaders in the formation of the early Christian community, from Jerusalem to the four corners of the earth.

Yet today we consider Matthew, not as a prince, not as a leader, but as a disciple, a follower of Jesus Christ. Our Gospel is the story of Matthew’s call, from Matthew’s Gospel no less. It reminds us that he was a tax collector, a person who was an outcast in the eyes of the People. In Palestine, tax collectors were complicit in the Roman occupation, collaborators and traitors who perpetuated an unjust regime that was opposed to the Law of God. Eating with tax collectors and other sinners was profoundly “unkosher,” yet this is exactly what Jesus does. “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. 9:12-13).

The story reminds us of a few truths about what it means to be a disciple of Christ, and the nature of our calling. First of all, being a disciple is really uncomplicated. It does not require a graduate degree; it does not require ordination; there is no elaborate preparation before you begin. You can start anytime; and starting is as simple as hearing the call and following the Master.

Discipleship requires movement: it takes you from where you are to where you need to be. Disciples are on the road, following the way. Our place is following the Leader, at the point where we encounter a world that is desperately in need, like those tax collectors and sinners in our Gospel today. Fundamentally, the world is in need of the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Discipleship may not require credentials, at least as the world considers them, but it does require faithfulness, and a determination to get out and get moving in mission.

Discipleship involves walking with Jesus. If you are following the Master you will have to become his friend. Jesus says in St. John’s Gospel that he no longer calls the disciples servants but rather friends, because he loves them and lays down his life for them (Jo. 15:12-17). Following Jesus requires friendship with Jesus, sharing his heart and mind, as we walk the road with him.

Bear in mind that when Jesus went to eat with tax collectors and sinners that he was not just indicating who the objects of the mission were, but also indicating the nature of the people he was calling! Remember, Matthew was himself an outcast. When Jesus tells the Pharisees that he has come to cure the sick and not those who are well, he’s telling the righteous that they’re not so righteous after all. Jesus takes broken people and turns them into disciples. Following Jesus means for each of us that same transformation, from sickness to health, with no exceptions. Salvation is not what the righteous do for sinners, but what God does for each of us. It’s part and parcel of the call.            

I’m grateful for the good work of the Order of the Daughters of the King. Your ministry of prayer equips the Diocese of Tennessee in ways that are incalculable but real. Prayer is a spiritual reality that never appears on a balance sheet; but, in spite of that, is one of our chief resources. Thank you for this gift. Thank you for modeling for us in your work of prayer what friendship with Jesus means. Thank you for hearing the call and following on the way.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee