Summary: Matthew’s puzzling and sudden following of Jesus is not so puzzling if we attend to Matthew’s profession, his Levitial upbringing, and his recognition of Jesus as the one about whom Hosea prophesied.
Matthew’s Puzzling Conversion
Last Sunday, I had occasion to mention the California coastal city named Laguna Beach. I mentioned Laguna Beach as an example of Jesus’ parable at the end of the sermon on the Mount, the part about the man who built his house upon the sand, and the storm came and blew against that house, and great was the fall thereof. Over the years, Laguna Beach has afforded many examples of this very thing – someone building their house on bluffs of clay and sand that line the California coast at that point. And, if you were watching the news this past week, you saw that another crop of foolish men have continued to build their multi-million dollar houses on those bluffs.
Well, within twelve hours of delivering you that homily last week, there was yet another landslide in Laguna Beach. Over a dozen homes were destroyed, several of them valued in the millions of dollars. Another two dozen or so homes were evacuated, because they were in danger of sliding into Bluebird Canyon.
There is a place on the Internet called Darwin Awards dot com, which lists the verified tales of people who do the most outrageously stupid things. All of them are verifiable lost causes, it would seem. And, now the people who built those houses on the sand are prime candidates for new entries for the Darwin Award of 2005.
There is another lost cause in today’s gospel lesson, but it has a dramatically different sort of outcome. It is, at first glance, something of a puzzle. Just prior to what we read in today’s gospel, Jesus had healed a bed-ridden cripple and had forgiven his sins. This, of course, promptly created a stir. Among the people, it was a stir of joy and hope. Here was one who could forgive sins and heal sickness; and in the popular estimation of things, the two always went hand in hand. If you were a notorious sinner, something evil befell you – some disease or accident. But, if you were forgiven your sins, the malady would go away too. So, the people were overjoyed at what Jesus did.
The Scribes, however, were scandalized. They judged Jesus to be blasphemous to forgive sins.
Now as he was passing on from this episode, Jesus passed by the stand of Matthew the tax collector. Mostly likely, Matthew’s office was along the route that traders would take, and he collected various sorts of tariffs and taxes from them. Jesus sees him and simply says to him, “Follow me.”
Here’s the puzzle: the gospel text – which by the way is composed by the same man, Matthew – simply says that Matthew rose up and followed him. No explanation is given at all. You might wonder if Matthew left something out.
If Matthew’s gospel were something like the let-it-all-hang-out first person accounts you find on newsstands, or bookstores, or on shows like Oprah or Jerry Springer, you would have at this point a long, tedious, and shameless baring of the soul, to explain how it was that Matthew got up and followed Jesus. But, no – even though this part of Matthew’s gospel is autobiographical, he simply relates that he got up and followed Jesus.