Usually, people associate religions with holy people. People expect to meet so-called holy and righteous men and women within a religious institution. Perhaps because of this, there is a general idea that holy people go to church. Is this true always?
Today the church celebrates the feast day of a man called Matthew, who was not regarded as holy or righteous before Jesus called him as a disciple. In fact, the group that he belonged to were called "sinners". They were tax collectors.
Universally people don’t much like tax-collectors. But Matthew was not just a tax collector, he collected taxes for the Romans, who occupied the land of the Jews.
Therefore Jews hated tax collectors and considered them betrayers of their religion and ethnic group. When Jesus called Matthew, he was very well aware that this would cause him trouble. So why did he call him?
Because this was one of the basic principles of his ministry, to work with people who were called sinners. This was clear when he said that he came to save sinners.
The call of Matthew is a challenge for us today because we are often tempted to work with people who are on our side and who have a philosophy of life close to our own.
As an orthodox Jew, Jesus would not have wanted the Romans as occupiers of his country. And those who collected taxes for that foreign regime were not Jesus’ friends. Yet he realised the importance of working with those who were isolated from others in society.
Today, as disciples of Jesus, are we ready to accept this call from him, to work closely with people who are not necessarily with us?
This is a difficult task, but an important and necessary one. It is necessary because it is important to bring together people who are divided by hatred.
To call Matthew to him Jesus went to a place quite strange for him. He went to the tax collectors gallery. His own people disliked this place and did not want their teachers or rabbis to go there. If we are ready to accept this call as Jesus did we have to go to places we may not like.
As Christians, we are happy to be within the four walls of a church. But we must take care not to use the Church as a members-only club. Today as we celebrate the feast of St Matthew we are reminded that we are called to go beyond the four walls of the church to places that we are not very fond of, to meet people who are not in our fellowship.
To do this we need God’s help and strength. Why? Because as we go beyond the boundaries that we are used to, we may feel insecure and isolated. We can overcome this insecurity and isolation only with the help of God.
Therefore as we celebrate the feast of Matthew let us ask these three questions. As an individual who is God asking me to work with? As a parish what is he asking us to do? As Christians what is his call for us today?
Let us listen to the voice of God and obey his voice so that we become doers of his will for the extension of his kingdom.