Monday 21 September 2020
The Very Revd Nicholas Papadopulos, Dean of Salisbury
2 Corinthians 4:1-6
Jesus calls twelve disciples who he names apostles.
We know where six of the twelve are when he calls them. Peter and Andrew and James and John are beside the sea. Nathaniel is under a fig tree. Matthew is at the tax-booth.
But where Philip is, where Thomas is, where James the son of Alphaeus is, where Simon the Cananaean is, where Judas Iscariot is – where any of these are when Jesus calls them – we don’t know. Where the apostles are when they are called is not a huge concern to those who retell and record the stories of Jesus. So when their whereabouts is retold and recorded we may assume that it must have had a particular significance.
For example, four fishermen are called to be fishers-of-men. Their backstory illustrates their new vocation. But what is the significance of Matthew being discovered at the tax booth? It is revealed in the verses which follow. Jesus goes to eat with many tax collectors and sinners, we are told. When challenged about the company he keeps he says “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners”. Matthew’s call illustrates this principle; it is a worked example of it. Jesus calls a tax-collector – corrupt, self-interested, colluding with the Gentile occupiers of Israel - because Jesus calls sinners. His concern is with the flawed and the fragile, with the incomplete and the unfinished, with the imperfect and the inadequate. So Matthew’s story is told first as a story of humility - of the humility that its readers and its hearers need to learn. If it’s sinners that God calls and if it’s you that God calls, then…well, you can work the rest out.
Matthew the tax-collector is called to follow Jesus. The Collect for today states that he is called to be an apostle and evangelist. That may be so, but that is not his principal call. He is not called in the first instance to do a job. He is not called to become a proclaimer of a new faith or the author of a Gospel or a martyr for Christ. He is called to follow Jesus. He is called to get up and leave the tax booth behind. He is called to walk away from the corruption, the self-interest and the collusion with the occupying power that the tax booth represents. Matthew is called to follow Jesus, and to follow is to change. So Matthew is called to change his priorities, to change his habits, to change his choices, to change everything. He is called to repent. Everything else – apostle, evangelist, preacher, martyr – follows from that initial call. The readers and hearers of his story are similarly called: repent, turn around, be changed.
But what is it that turns Matthew the tax collector into Matthew the penitent? What enables him to make that journey? It is trust, and this is the third area of significance for readers and hearers of his story. The tax booth represents not only corruption and self interest and collusion with an occupying power. It also represents security and familiarity. Jesus offers Matthew neither. He stands before him and invites him to risk everything. He invites him to trust, as he invites us to trust.
We sit where Matthew sits, in the booths of priority, habit and choice that we have constructed. Jesus calls us to recognize what we have built around ourselves; he calls us to walk away from it; and he calls us to place our trust in him.