“O Son of God, our blessed Savior Jesus Christ, You called Matthew the tax collector to be an apostle and evangelist. Through his faithful and inspired witness, grant that we also may follow You, leaving behind all covetous desires and love of riches; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”
[Collect for St. Matthew]
September 21 brings the Church the opportunity to commemorate St. Matthew, one of the Twelve Apostles and one of the Four Evangelists. Matthew is known to us from the Gospels, including his own account of Christ’s words and works. In the Gospel Reading for his festival day, Matthew’s description of his call to discipleship is read: “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.”(Matt 9:9)
The record of Matthew’s call to follow Jesus is very brief. Jesus gives the command to follow, and Matthew does so. Jesus’ words strike Matthew’s ears, and they create faith in him. Matthew leaves behind his former way of life, in order to participate in the Way of Life. No longer will Matthew be counted among those who collect taxes from men; instead, he will engage in the taxing work of collecting men to be made part of Christ’s Church.
But why does Jesus desire to have someone like Matthew with Him? Of all people in ancient
Matthew’s complete change in life sets the pattern for all who will follow Jesus. As the Christ brings salvation to people caught in sin, death, and the clutches of Satan, a new way of life is given to them. Jesus brings a transformation of life to those He encounters. They are no longer unrighteous, but righteous. They no longer are ignorant of the way God considers them, but rejoice in it. They no longer are rebellious people, but find pleasure in God’s perfect will and desire to fulfill it. Such a change is not limited to Matthew, but is found throughout all generations of believers, even in the present day.
But how does Jesus bring change in our time? Do we have Jesus walking around in our midst? Do we see Him entering the Department of Revenue, calling tax collectors to discipleship? No, we don’t. But we do have His Word present with us that performs what it declares. The call continues to go out to individuals: “Follow Me.” And people continue to rise and follow. But how does that call come to them? It comes through the work of the apostles and evangelists, through the efforts of people like Matthew who are sent out into the world to hand down the accounts of Christ’s words and works to others—the labor that brings people into fellowship with Christ. It is what Jesus desires, so that others may share in His mercy.
This is has happened in your lives. Christ’s Word has come to you. Jesus commands you: “Follow Me.” That Word was spoken when you were made His disciple through Holy Baptism. It has come to you again as you hear of Christ’s choosing the Twelve to follow Him. Every time that one of Christ’s ministers declares that your sins are forgiven, Jesus’ word again calls you to discipleship. Instruction in the way of life that Jesus lays out gives guidance to His followers. The Holy Spirit works through Christ’s Word being proclaimed, even when it is spoken by people like Matthew or you.
Having been made disciples of Jesus, you are led in the way of following Him. There is the temptation to abandon that way, to go back to the former ways, just as the tax booths and their profits tempted Matthew. But the prayer of every disciple of Jesus is to have His Word never leave, but always to sound forth clearly in the heart, mind, and soul. For through that action, the Holy Spirit leads you to follow Jesus in the midst of every temptation. Such a prayer is found in the collect printed above: “Through [Matthew’s] faithful and inspired witness, grant that we also may follow You, leaving behind all covetous desires and love of riches. . . .”
The desire to hear Christ’s Word throughout life is also reflected in the psalm for St. Matthew’s Day: “Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep Your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in Your ways. Confirm to Your servant Your promise, that You may be feared. Turn away the reproach that I dread, for Your just decrees are good. Behold, I long for Your precepts; in Your righteousness give me life!”(Ps 119:33-40) The psalm reveals the benefit of having Christ’s Word present in the lives of believers. Such a prayer is good to offer, especially as you remember the transformation that Christ’s Word worked in both Matthew and you. In your Lord’s mercy, it shall be true for you; Christ’s words and works make it so. As He has called you to discipleship, you shall possess the true treasure—not the coin of the realm that Matthew once collected, but life everlasting in full righteousness and perfection with all of Christ’s people.