Fr David's sermon
19th September 2004
'And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax-collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.'
If all the figures in our stained glass windows suddenly came to life who would we single out for a chat, who would be most approachable? It has to be said that many of them don't look very friendly and some are decidedly fierce. At the East end Jesus is typically Victorian and Aryan. It is not that he is unfriendly it is just that he looks rather 'wet' and therefore we might doubt his ability to help us. Of the evangelist's the smooth faced St. John looks a good bet, thoughtful and kind. Mark and Luke look solid and dependable in their C19th way, but you can't see them so you'll have to take my word for it. But St. Matthew looks like the last person we'd choose. He looks like a mad uncle about to explode in anger and rage. Sometimes the faces in stained glass were modelled on the person whose memorial they are. So perhaps our St. Matthew has the face of one of the patrician Victorian businessmen who paid for our Church. He certainly has the look of a man of finance and money.
St. Matthew, Our Patron whose feast we celebrate today was as tax collector was a man of money and dodgy dealing and as such the Pharisees for singled him out for particular disapproval. Nobody else would have like him either. 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 wasn't bad enough they also tended towards corruption and extortion. They would over-charge or take bribes in lieu of tax. They grew rich at the expense of others and damaged the livelihood of others. Thus they were hated. Caravans would have spread tales of the worst offenders. Who knows, perhaps Matthew was a bad case?
What was Matthew really 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.
Matthew had probably already heard of Jesus. When they finally met , Jesus saw straight through to Matthew's 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?
So actually if our stained glass figures really did come alive, St. Matthew might prove to be worth getting to know. He'd teach us a lot about Jesus and about ourselves. Far from being a mad fierce uncle he'd become quite a favourite uncle after all.
St. Matthew, pray for us.
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