Monday, September 21, 2009

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I hate being rushed into decisions. If I'm making a purchase, I like to shop around, weigh my options, look at different products and prices, and then ponder whether I really need to make the purchase at all. I don't like to hurry to a hasty decision. And that's for something minor, like buying a new six-pack of dress socks. (I ended up getting the Target store brand ones). So Matthew's abrupt life-changing decision in today's Gospel is pretty shocking to me.

One verse. Jesus saw Matthew sitting at the tax booth. Jesus called Matthew. Matthew came. Just like that.

And let's be clear, Matthew at the tax booth wasn't some bureaucrat leaving a desk job. Matthew's job was more like being the front man in a protection racket. Matthew wasn't paid according to a civil service pay schedule; he got a percentage of whatever he could extort from his own people on behalf of the hated occupying Roman army. Walking away from the tax booth meant leaving not just his job, but also his political allegiances and likely his safety. It's not an easy job to quit. So how did Matthew do it so decisively? Is there more to this story? Perhaps our other scripture for the day can help us unpack this.

Paul's second letter to Timothy reminded him to cling to the scripture he had known from childhood that would instruct him in salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Now to be clear, the scriptures Timothy could have known as a child weren't the Gospels, or Paul's letters, which would have yet to be written, but the Hebrew scriptures. Perhaps THIS is Matthew's story. Could the scriptures of his childhood have set the stage for his sudden conversion? If anyone was in need of teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, it would seem to be Matthew, who got rich by helping the Romans steal from the Jews. Yet all Jesus said to him was "Follow me." What sort of seeds had been planted in him, ripening from the days of his youth, that he might be so ready to be harvested when Jesus came past his tax booth?

To answer this question, we turn to the other lesson we shared today, a lesson Matthew would have known from his youth:

Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes,* and I shall keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law;* I shall keep it with all my heart.
Make me go in the path of your commandments,* for that is my desire.
Incline my heart to your decrees* and not to unjust gain.
Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless;* give me life in your ways.
Fulfill your promise to your servant,* which you make to those who fear you.
Turn away the reproach which I dread,* because your judgments are good.
Behold, I long for your commandments;* in your righteousness preserve my life.

When we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the scriptures, when we practice little steps of following Jesus in unremarkable but real ways in our lives, the seeds are growing in us. And when the acceptable time arrives when God speaks to us, on the day of salvation when God calls us to take a leap to faith and risk everything for the sake of the Kingdom of God, these seeds may come ripe in us as they did in Matthew. We, like Matthew, can cling to what we once learned and firmly believed so when Jesus says, "Follow me," all that remains is to follow immediately. No need to keep those operators standing by. Amen.