Daily Reflection
September 21st, 2004
Mike Cherney
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Feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13
Psalm 19:2-3, 4-5
Matthew 9:9-138

As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post.

It is easy for me to imagine Matthew in his role as a customs officer. One of the labs where I work is on the Swiss-French boarder. For many years, my office was on one side and my experiment was on the other. Each day as I drove by, I felt concern. Do I have something in the car that I need to declare? Will I get stopped? A customs agent seems to evoke stress and self-scrutiny in a way that airport security does not. In the early eighties I was stopped for three hours at a border crossing in Berlin. Customs agents can make your life very difficult when they want to. After that experience I asked myself, was it me, was it the way I looked, was it my nationality, or was the guy just having a bad day? Even when I fly back into the US, I notice my heart beats faster until I am outside the arrivals area.

Why would Jesus pick this man? Why not the good upstanding Pharisee? I cannot think of one occasion where someone said that they were inviting a county assessor over for dinner or that they were going to ball game with a new buddy who they met during their IRS audit. On the other hand, very few people are inhibited about inviting the contemporary equivalents of the Pharisees into their homes for the evening.

When I was growing up it seemed that being good meant being conventional. In some sense I was encouraged to be judgmental. I could easily understand those who felt resentment when preferential treatment was given to someone who was less well off. Jesus chooses the tax collectors and sinners rather than those who focused on the details of religious law. Why? Jesus says this is because those are the ones who are in greater need of his attention.

Although I could understand those who became upset when everyone was not treated exactly the same, I was never one who was clamoring for justice, because I knew who I was and what I deserved. I am grateful for a God who responds with mercy and forgiveness.

I can advance two more explanations of why Jesus may have made the personnel choices that he did. These both grow out of my role as a parent. My wife is a good person who was a good child. I was a much larger problem for my parents than she was for hers. Today we have two sons. My wife cannot understand how they can present so many challenges. I cannot understand how they can be so good. This brings me to the first advantage of recruiting those who made trouble in the past for leadership roles, that is, we sometimes have a better perspective on when and how to be forgiving. We also have a second gift. I can look into my son's eyes and know what is going on in a teenage boy's head in a way that my wife (although she is trained as a psychologist) will never be able to do. Sometimes the best leaders are the ones who have undergone a change. Paul is our example of someone who moved from being rule driven to being driven by the heart.

In the first reading, Paul makes a plea for Christian unity. In this election year, I feel I live in a country, which is particularly divided. I see the issues of individual rights and the allocation of resources polarizing us further. I can see my core beliefs at odds with items in the platforms of both political parties. Today I pray for the ability to listen to my heart. I pray for the grace that Paul assures us is there. I pray for the strength to see beyond the black and white that is presented. I pray for the ability to confront the gray and make intelligent decisions. Jesus chose the marginalized. I pray for the Lord's guidance in restoring our sense of unity in our true mission.

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