daily biblical sermons

Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Thursday, 24th Week of the Year, September 21, 2017
Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13, Psalm 18, Matthew 9:9-13

Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted


"As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.' And he rose and followed him" (Matthew 9:9).

Today, on this feast of St. Matthew, we hear his original call by Jesus. He was a despised tax collector, someone who collaborated with the hated Roman rulers of the Western world and was also looked down upon because tax collectors were usually swindlers, cheating people out of more money than was their due. Hence they were considered to be sinners.

But here is Jesus brushing aside all these considerations and calling one of these looked-down-upon tax collectors to be one of his twelve apostles. Upon hearing this call, Matthew, who has surely already heard quite a bit about this popular itinerant preacher and miracle worker Jesus, gets up immediately, leaves his tax office, and follows Jesus. We see here Jesus' powerful call that must have deeply touched Matthew, and we also see his immediate, radical faith response to this call. Matthew clearly puts his faith in Jesus.

Matthew's faith in Jesus is thus the means by which he is, in an anticipatory way, justified by God, because of the future death of Jesus on the cross to make just reparation for his sins, thus atoning for them and enabling God to acquit him of them and declare him righteous.

Immediately follows the rest of Matthews's new life, the first act of which is his leaving his tax job and everything he has to follow Jesus for the rest of his life.

I think it is helpful to see two phases here in a Matthews's new life: 1) his faith and repentance, and 2) his future life (that immediately follows), involving renunciation of the world and of his whole former way of life.

Our life as Christians should follow this same pattern. We can label this first phase "faith and justification," and the second phase "sanctification."

It is our faith in Christ that enables God to justify us, because our faith in Christ enables God to credit Christ's atoning, reparation-making death on the cross to our account, thus counting it as full reparation for our sins. Part of this act of faith is repentance or turning away from our past sins and former worldly and sinful way of life. The result of this act of faith and repentance is our justification. For the sake of Christ, God then and there justifies us, which means that he acquits us of our sins and declares us righteous, reckoning the resplendent righteousness of Christ himself to us. This is our justification.

Then comes the second phase of our new life in Christ, which is progressive sanctification, whereby we begin to live in a completely new way, according to God's will, as it is made known to us in his moral law and in the teachings and example of Jesus and of the other New Testament books.

In Matthew's case, we see his radical renunciation of his tax collecting job and his physical following after Jesus as one of his twelve apostles. St. Luke describes Matthew's response even more dramatically: "And he [Jesus] said to him [Levi, Matthew], ‘Follow me.' And he left everything, and rose and followed him" (Luke 5:27-28).

What should we think and say about such a radical response and turnabout? This was the response of all the apostles. Peter, James, and John had been taken aback by a huge catch of fish at Jesus' command. "And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him" (Luke 5:11). Later Peter would say, "Lo, we have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?" (Matthew 19:27). And to the rich young man who sought something more, a deeper walk with the Lord, Jesus said, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Matthew 19:21). "To another he [Jesus] said, ‘Follow me.' But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.' But he said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God'" (Luke 9:59-60).

What shall we say about such a radical response? Is this for everyone or just for a few Christians, for a special group who seek a higher way of life? I would say that both are true: yes, this radical response is expected of every Christian; and also yes, this is a special call of a small group that are seeking a higher way of life.

Let me explain my answer. All are called to radically follow Jesus and to change their way of life, rejecting and renouncing their past worldliness and sinfulness, and devoting themselves completely to God, following his moral law and living a new and virtuous life. This is what every convert to Christianity and every Christian is expected to do.

But there are also some who will be led by God to do even more: to renounce marriage and family, parents and home, brothers and sisters, lands, money, and possessions to follow Christ in a life of perfection in the most radical, literal, and complete way possible. This is the monastic, religious, celibate, and priestly way of life. It is a higher way of life (1 Corinthians 7:32-34, 38), because it more completely renounces the world and its pleasures and delights for the sake of an undivided heart to be in love with God alone. This is the way of life that Jesus is talking about when he says, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life" (Luke 18:29-30 NKJV). This was the higher way of life to which Jesus was inviting the rich young man.

Yet all these radical texts must also be read by every Christian, and they must apply them to themselves within their own way of life as husbands and wives and parents with houses and jobs in this world. They too are called to live totally for the Lord, even as St. Matthew did, even though they need not renounce marriage, their job, their livelihood, their family, or their home to do so. Nonetheless, they also are called as Christians to renounce all for Christ's sake, not literally, but in a very real and meaningful way in order to live henceforth only for God together with their wife or husband, children and parents, doing their job in this world and living in their own home, for Jesus says, "Whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:33).

How many people actually do this? I would not be able to judge. I can only repeat Jesus' call to abandon all things for his sake. A few will do this literally (the monks, religious, celibates, and priests). But the majority will be called by God to renounce all and live for him alone in a very real although not literal way. How many actually do this, God alone knows. But the gospel clearly calls us all to this, for "Whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:33).



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