The Collect for the Feast of St. MatthewWe thank you, heavenly Father, for the witness of your apostle and evangelist Matthew to the Gospel of your Son our Savior; and we pray that, after his example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.Matthew 9:9-13As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
My, it was a fine sermon, a clear call to discipleship, based on the gospel printed above, the gospel chosen for the Feast of St. Matthew (which is today). My compelling preaching was based on the two words Jesus said to Matthew: Follow me. With unbridled homiletic prowess, I made the point that we each are called to a deeper discipleship that goes to our heart and changes our lives. And because I’m such an able communicator, I included in the Sunday bulletin a rather large, unavoidable bookmark with the phrase: Follow Me, printed in bold but elegant font. It was a takeaway that would keep the message of discipleship in front of parishioners, perhaps for the rest of their lives. It was a good morning.
That same evening, my wife and I were invited to a dinner party. We were greeted at the door by the host, a parishioner, who immediately asked if we’d like a drink from the bar. When I said yes, he pulled out the aforementioned bookmark: Follow me. He led me to libation.
I realized that what I had said and what had been heard from the pulpit may not have been the same.
We may have a clear idea of what it means to affiliate with a denomination, or to be a church member. But that is not necessarily the same as thinking about what it means to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus. Whether it was my host’s appropriation of Jesus’ phrase, or the ways we talk about following someone on social media, we may need to reclaim this word “follow.” Use this feast day to think about what it means for you to follow Jesus, however you are choosing to do that. And let me suggest three things implied in that call.
First, it suggests movement. We can’t stay where we are. As Pope Francis said, there’s no such thing as a stationary Christian. In that suggestion, there’s an indication of another way, perhaps even hope. Matthew didn’t need to continue to be a tax-collector, despised by his own people. Peter didn’t need to continue to be a mediocre fisherman (Note: There is no indication that the disciples who were professional fishermen ever caught a fish without Jesus’ help.) While we may not know where the following will lead, it involves the hope of something better, a more abundant life, a life marked by healing and reconciliation, loving kindness and forgiveness.
Second, it suggests intentionality and purpose. One of my mentors suggests that we could substitute the word intentionality for discipleship. It may seem impulsive, but Matthew got up from his table, perhaps in the middle of tax consultation with a rich client. Other disciples dropped nets, left their businesses and leapt into a new life with Jesus. They made a decision, the road taken. We are faced on a daily basis with choices. Will we choose the way of love, with all that entails? Will we choose that way, even if we’re not sure what it entails?
Finally, it suggests relationship. We don’t follow a creed, a set of rules or guidelines. We follow a person. As Easter people we believe in the mystery that he is very much alive, met in the practice of prayer. He is met in worship, bread and wine conveying his presence. He is met in service to those in need. (As you have done it to the least of these, you have done it unto me. Matthew 25.) That relationship is marked by love and grace, a commitment to showing mercy as mercy has been shown to us. That relationship calls us to learn from him, to imitate him in word and action. We learn as we go, putting faith into practice, becoming more proficient, becoming more Christ-like in the process.
So what does it look like for you to be a follower of Jesus this week?