Daily Reflection
September 21st, 1999
Carolyn Meeks
Grants Administration Office
Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13
Matthew 9:9-13

I was standing in a video store in Indiana about ten years ago when I struck up a conversation with a stranger.  This woman and I had started chatting about superficial things, the weather, the video choices, etc., when the conversation started taking a more personal tone.  In the context of the story choices among us, within minutes, she was telling me her own story.

She had been addicted to drugs as a teenager, and in her mid-twenties had walked in by mistake to a storefront church, attracted by some ethereal music.  She had experienced there for the first time the hope that God was maybe real.  She had found herself praying.  And from that moment on, she said, she no longer craved drugs.  She had lost the desire for them.  She had experienced the free gift, the mercy of God, and lived to tell the story.

Today’s account from Matthew’s gospel is from one who has lived the Great Mercy.  In his former life, he had taken money from people to give to an occupying force.  In today's world, he would be a tax collector for Indonesia in East Timor.  He was not loved, nor respected, by Jesus’ community.  He was despised.

His account of his being invited to share in the table fellowship of Jesus, alone among the gospels, has Jesus quote from the Hebrew Scriptures’ book of Hosea—Hosea, who had been in love with and stayed faithful to a harlot, despite derision and shame.

Matthew’s gospel goes beyond the Pharisee’s question to the disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  It even goes beyond Jesus’ answer:  “Those who are well have no need of a doctor, but rather those who are sick.”  This gospel account alone has Jesus press further with a quote from Hosea:  “I (God) desire mercy, and not sacrifice.”  Mercy.

Matthew’s “take” on Jesus, from one who was “sick” himself, a “harlot” himself (a despised tax collector for an occupying force), is of the bountiful mercy of a healing God, expressed through the attentive personal presence of Jesus.  Like a prism, Matthew’s gospel here reveals much about Jesus, and much about Matthew.  Matthew has lived the mercy of God, and lived to tell the awesome and personal story.

As Paul’s letter in today’s first reading puts it, “But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.”  With the writing of this gospel, Matthew the despised-tax-collector-turned-beloved-leader of a community of believers has become the teller of the good news, the evangelist, whose feast we celebrate today.

Jesus found Matthew, and finds us, exactly where we are in life.  He finds us nowhere else.  (We can find him nowhere else.)  And again he invites:  Follow me, and live the Great Mercy.  

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