Contemplating the Call of Matthew
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus saw Matthew, sitting at his customs table, Jesus must have seen how the people despised this tax collector. Jesus had to sense that this kind of resentment and rejection did things to a tax collector. He had to immediately feel compassion on Matthew and what it had done to him. Had it made him defensive and thick skinned? Had he become gruff and insensitive to others? Did he bark and push others away?
I imagine that the first thing Matthew noticed was how Jesus was looking at him. Could it have been that the first experience Matthew had of Jesus was that Jesus was simply looking at him in a way no one had ever looked at him? When their eyes met, Matthew must have seen love and compassion, not blame and judgment. Jesus did not look on him with hate and contempt. Jesus simply looked at him with care.
As I picture the scene, Matthew immediately sensed that Jesus somehow understood the predicament he was in. He got himself into this and he'd not been an attractive character at all. He played the role people had put him in. But, Jesus didn't fix him in that role somehow. Before he uttered a word, Jesus' eyes must have said to Matthew, "I know this isn't really you. I understand how much playing this role is distorting you, souring you, hardening you." It was as though Jesus' face, and the sadness it revealed, reflected the sadness in Matthew's heart.
"Follow me." The words must have made their ways straight to Matthew's heart. Never had his heart been so opened by such understanding, compassion and loving acceptance. For a moment, he must have thought, "Me? I'm just a ... I can't change ... I'm stuck here ... And, what'll they say about ..." But, those protests surely were replaced with something responding from deep inside that welcomed this call, this liberation, this vote of confidence more than anything in the world. Without a word, with their eyes still locked in that communication of intimacy, Matthew's heart said, "Yes! Amen! I'm yours!" Nothing else had a hold on him. There were no excuses, doubts or fears. Matthew had been healed as he had been called. His yes was his surrender to being loved.
Can we look up from our own custom table today and see Jesus looking at us with compassion and love? He knows and understands whatever has us locked into roles, images, patterns that aren't very attractive and that we don't really like about ourselves. Can we let ourselves experience and feel his love? On the other side of that loving acceptance, there's a freedom to imagine him calling us today, in our situation, and say "Follow me."
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