A sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 5
June 11, 2023
The Rev. Mark Nabors, Vicar
Readings: Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
“As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’” Today’s gospel takes us to the calling of St. Matthew. Jesus sees an unlikely disciple in an unlikely place. Matthew, a tax collector, sitting in a tax booth, would not have expected a call from Jesus. Despised, called a collaborator with the Romans, Matthew was not the most obvious candidate for discipleship. But Jesus calls him anyway.
Today we begin a new season of the church year. It’s called the season after Pentecost, or Ordinary Time. Last week, Trinity Sunday, was actually our first Sunday in Ordinary Time, but Trinity Sunday feels different from today and the Sundays to come. From now until Advent, with only a couple of exceptions, we will be in the green season, focusing on Jesus’s life and teaching. We will hear Jesus calling us, like he called St. Matthew, through the words he speaks. And like St. Matthew, we are not the most likely of candidates in the most likely of places to be called by Jesus. But here we are, and Jesus is calling us: “Follow me.”
As with St. Matthew, Jesus does not give us any details. He does not say, “follow me to this place,” or “follow me for this long.” No, he just says, “follow me.” The invitation is to follow indefinitely, with no details, with no guarantees, without any warranties, without any conditions–but to follow wherever, putting our complete trust in his grace and love.
Nor does the call to follow Jesus come easily. There is always a cost–a cost to our will, a cost to our egos. We pick up our cross and follow. But in order to pick up that cross, we must lay down some things: pride, vanity, hatefulness, old grudges, anger, envy, festering wounds. We must lay down our insistence to be in control, to always be right, to get the final word. We lay it down so that we might pick up our cross–and the crown of life.
There is a painting by the Italian Renaissance painter Caravaggio called “The Calling of St. Matthew.” In it, we see a group of men sitting at a table counting money. We suppose this is a tax booth. Off to the side, we see Jesus and another man. Jesus is pointing, calling, inviting, beckoning. The reactions at the table are mixed. One man looks as if he is about to fall out of his chair, and he is reaching for his sword, perhaps in an automatic defensive posture. Another man is looking with interest; he looks young and naive. One man’s head is buried in the table, counting money. This is his favorite part of that day–counting what goes in his pockets. Another man, looking at Jesus, is pointing to himself, as if to say, “who? Me?”
Art scholars have pointed out that Caravaggio never told us who St. Matthew was. It could be any of the people at that table. To some degree, St. Matthew is in each of them. And so are we. After all, the name “Matthew” literally means disciple. That’s all of us.
Jesus shows up at the tax booth of my life. He points, calls, “follow me,” he says. Like one of the fellas in the painting, sometimes I nearly fall out of my chair, startled and surprised; and maybe I reach for my sword, put up my defenses, make my excuses. There have been times when I stare with amazement, naively–and that’s all the reaction I seem to be able to muster. There have been times when I’ve asked, “who, Lord? Me? Are you sure?” There are other times yet when I haven’t heard the call because I’ve been buried in other things, things I think are more important, like that dragon in the Lord of the Rings, obsessing over things that are passing away. I have been in each one of those places, and I bet you have, too.
But the point is not where we are when Jesus comes calling; the point is where we end up. “I have not come to call the righteous,” Jesus says, “but sinners.” Jesus has come to call all of us, no matter where we find ourselves sitting in that tax booth: you, me, and every person on this planet. Jesus calls all of us to him, to his grace, to his love, to his life. He comes and calls–over and over and over again–pulling us forward, in stages, on the journey to the heart of God.
JOIN US FOR WORSHIP!
Join us for worship every Sunday at 10:30 a.m. There is a mid-week service on Tuesdays at 5:30 with anointing for the sick and Holy Communion.