Tuesday, September 21, 2010

And he got up and followed him…….How about you?

Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion - it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ. - Billy Graham

Gospel text (Mt 9:9-13): As Jesus moved on, He saw a man named Matthew at his seat in the custom-house, and He said to him, «Follow me». And Matthew got up and followed him. Now it happened, while Jesus was at table in Matthew's house, many tax collectors and other sinners joined Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this they said to his disciples, «Why is it that your master eats with those sinners and tax collectors?». When Jesus heard this he said, «Healthy people do not need a doctor, but sick people do. Go and find out what this means: What I want is mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners».

Today, we celebrate the feast of Saint Matthew, the Apostle and evangelist. When Jesus told him “Follow-me,” Matthew did so without second guessing. Not only did Matthew follow Jesus, but he also became an apostle, building the Body of Christ.

Matthew’s profession, as a tax collector, was frowned upon. Those practicing it were considered as publicans and sinners. He was at the service of king Herod, lord of Galilee, a king hated by the people and who is depicted in the New Testament as adulterous, John the Baptist's murderer and who, on Good Friday, mocked Jesus. What would Matthew think when he was due to render accounts to king Herod? Matthew's conversion must have meant a true release for him, as proved by the banquet he organizes by inviting publicans and sinners. It was his own way of showing his gratitude to the Master for having been able to get rid of a most miserable position and find true happiness.

"What reason" could Jesus have for enjoying fellowship with those who sin? Why does He sit down, relax, and eat with "those who disregard" His very own commands (that is, the Old Testament)? When Jesus went to Matthew's for dinner, the people with whom He ate were not reformed sinners looking for holiness. They were still "known as sinners" committed to a sinful lifestyle (Mt 9:10). These people were sinners who wanted to meet Matthew's new Friend, Jesus. Thus, Jesus' reputation took a nose-dive with the faithful.

Churchgoers can give lip-service to conversion, but a lot of people would resent suddenly having a bunch of sinners in the next pew. Would the church potluck lose its regulars if a group of alcoholics and prostitutes began coming on a regular basis? Would those regulars turn against you if you were the person inviting these sinful newcomers to new life in Jesus?

As disciples of Jesus, we place a higher priority on reconciliation than on our own reputation. Conversion comes first. If gaining conversions creates conversations that harm us, then so be it. Jesus Himself said: "Woe to you when all speak well of you" (Lk 6:26). Therefore, it can be a good thing for us when people speak against us for following Jesus.

Be like Matthew. Invite sinners to meet Jesus. Cause heaven to rejoice (Lk 15:7), even if it makes your reputation suffer.

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