Fr David's Sermon
21st September 2003
'And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax-collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.'
We all hate filling in our tax returns, an increasingly complex and time consuming task. We don't much like paying tax either. We may dislike Revenue staff in the abstract but if we know them personally we don't usually treat them any differently from anyone else. Although I heard it said that Tax Officers feel unloved and have a higher than average suicide rate. But however we feel about tax and tax collectors we are unlikely to be scandalised by the presence of tax collectors at a respectable dinner party.
Our Patron, St. Matthew, whose feast we celebrate today was a tax collector and as such the Pharisees for particular disapproval singled him out. Of all the many types of sinner why were tax collectors chosen for a special mention?
There were several reasons. Tax collectors like Matthew sat in the customs house exacting tax at various internal frontiers within the Roman Empire. They collected tax for the enemy, for Caesar and were thus often quislings and collaborators.
If that was bad enough they also tended towards corruption and extortion. They would over charge or take bribes in lieu of tax. They tended to grow rich at the expense of others and damaged the livelihood of others. Thus they were hated. Caravans would have spread tales of the worst. Who knows, perhaps Matthew was a bad case?
But of Matthew himself, what was he like? The danger is that we only see the job, the role, not the whole person. Matthew may have been rich but he was deeply unhappy, isolated and unloved, slowly being consumed by his own corruption, one sick in need of a physician, in need of mercy and forgiveness.
Jesus, of whom Matthew no doubt would already of heard, saw straight to the heart. When he called Matthew to follow, him those words must have penetrated to his very core. For the first time he was able to see a way out, an end to his isolation, the possibility of receiving and giving love in relationship with Jesus.
So he followed and joined the party with other tax collectors and sinners, from districts where today at night policeman would walk in pairs and girls alone. The Pharisees by their self-righteousness excluded themselves.
We know the rest of the story; Matthew the tax collector became an apostle and evangelist, a gospel writer, patron of this and many other churches.
So what of us who with Matthew have heard the call of Jesus Christ? What does Matthew teach us?
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Last updated 20/09/2003 18:00 Author: Fr David Shepherd