[Matthew 9:9] As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
You might not have realized this, but the Apostles, the twelve disciples, were called by Jesus more than once. Like all Christians, they received a general call to follow Jesus as a disciple, a learner-follower, of Jesus. This is call is extended to each of us by Jesus. Then the disciples also received a call to their specific stations of service in the Church.
So, for example, some of the twelve disciples were first disciples of John the Baptist. Through him, they came to know Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – and John said follow him. Later, Christ called these disciples to be fishers of men, and after that apostles.
Even so today, we are all called by the Gospel and in our Baptisms to be followers of Jesus. And then some followers of Jesus are later called to be pastors – and some are called to other kinds of service. But we all share that first, general call to be disciples – learners and followers of Jesus.
Matthew, in today’s Gospel lesson, is not yet the Apostle Matthew nor is he yet the Evangelist Matthew. Those aren’t his callings in today’s Gospel reading. Instead, Matthew, in today’s reading, is being called only to become Saint Matthew – to be a disciple, a learner-follower of Jesus. Matthew, today, receives his general call, the same call that Jesus has extended to each of you. It’s not until the next chapter, in fact, that Jesus calls Matthew to be the Apostle Matthew, one of the Twelve.
In short, Jesus’ call to Matthew in today’s reading is for you – it’s the call you received in your Baptism and every day as a baptized person – Jesus said, “Follow me.” And Matthew “rose and followed him.”
There are many voices calling to you in this world, brothers and sisters. Follow Jesus. Jesus’ call to you in the midst of today’s many voices is “Follow me” – follow Jesus. Go against the flow in an ocean of men and women who are only listening to themselves and who only stand up for what they know looks good in the eyes of their neighbor. Stand up instead for Jesus to be a listener of His voice, His word. Know His words. Guard and keep His commands in yourself. Every hour, defy the convincing reasoning of a dark world, and stand yourself up to be a follower of Jesus’ words and commands.
Matthew is our example – “he rose and followed Him.” And there is more to Matthew’s example. Matthew stands up, and also leaves behind. Consider Luke’s record of this event: [Luke 5:27-28] After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.
Matthew rose, left everything, and followed. The word for leaving here is the same word as when the Bible says, “A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife.” It is the forsaking of one thing to cleave all the more to another. Like a man leaves mom and dad’s house to start a whole new life in a new home, so Matthew left his tax booth and cleaved, joined, his whole self tightly to Jesus. Matthew left behind all that was in his tax booth.
What was in Matthew’s tax booth? What had kept him sitting there? What exactly did Matthew leave when he “left all things”? The point isn’t that Matthew quit his job – that would be nothing good in and of itself, even as a tax collector. In fact, in itself, there was nothing wrong with Matthew being a tax collector. Disciples of Jesus were free to work as tax collectors, soldiers, or any other legitimate job [Luke 3:12-14].
Tax collecting wasn’t the issue. Matthew instead was leaving behind his covetous desires that so attached him to his tax booth, and which so often accompanied that occupation. Matthew left behind his fear, love, and trust in wealth that so often caused tax collectors to be fraudulent, extortioners, and less than honest with money.
There is no holiness in leaving a job behind - that’s not the call of Jesus. Jesus does call us to leave our sin behind – to leave our false trust behind. Jesus has called us even to pluck out the eye and cut off the hand that causes us to sin (figuratively speaking). The forsaking of sin – the renouncing of the devil and all his ways – the daily forsaking of your sin is part of your general call to Jesus.
Matthew stood up and left behind a covetous desire for gain and a wrong trust in wealth. Matthew therefore left behind the activity through which sin was tempting him. He follows Jesus and forms a new attachment and trust in Him.
Matthew is an example for us. Leave behind the sin which so closely clings. Stand up and walk away from the activities which so often lead you to sin and keep you attached to it. Follow Jesus.
Matthew’s example of standing up and following Jesus so immediately sets the bar high for us – and, when misunderstood, this can be discouraging to us. We think, “Good for Matthew, but I don’t have it in me.” Brothers and sisters, Matthew didn’t have it in himself either. It was the power and effectiveness of Jesus’ call that lifted Matthew onto his feet.
Hear the Word of God. Hear – receiving the preaching of God’s Word into your ears and keep it. Receive His Sacrament, His Supper, deliberately seeking His help in it. The power of the continued call of God – the power and effectiveness of the living, preached Word of God – this does have strength to lift sinners. I cannot change. But I dare not deny that God’s Word can cause change. What happened for Matthew in a moment happens for you and me in a lifetime. Jesus’ continued call in His Word does work and lift and change.
And every day, like you, Matthew also needed the continual call of Jesus. Even after Matthew became the Apostle Matthew – even after Matthew wrote this Gospel and thereby became the Evangelist Matthew – even with these titles, Matthew was still the Sinner-Matthew. Matthew only gets the title Saint Matthew because of what Jesus has done for Matthew on the Cross.
“Saint” means “holy”. Matthew is only “Holy Matthew” because Jesus has now shed his blood to forgive, to atone for, all the sins of Sinner-Matthew. On the cross, Jesus Christ, the only Holy One, the only Saint, died in the place of Sinner-Matthew to make Him Saint-Matthew by His blood.
In Jesus’ death, Jesus died for all sinners. Sin is forgiven. Man is put at peace with God. Matthew is now Saint Matthew because Jesus took the place of Sinner-Tax-Collector-Matthew. To God, through Jesus, you are now “Holy So and So”, “Saint So and So”, because the Holy One died for you, the Sinner.
When Jesus says, “Come, follow me”, you are called to follow a Savior, a Helper, a Forgiver, a Healer, a Sanctifier – one who makes the unholy holy.
Jesus called Matthew because He came to call sinners, not the righteous:
And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Our congregation is called “Saint Matthew Evangelical Lutheran Church”. Let’s follow the example of Saint Matthew. Let’s daily stand up to follow Jesus. Let’s arise weekly and more to receive His mercy through His Word and Supper. Let’s leave behind our sins and the world’s deceiving voice. Let’s be faithful to the Faithful One. Let’s stand up and walk for our Savior who loves us so much. Amen.