Summary: It’s easy to identify others as "lost causes". It’s not nearly so easy for us to see ourselves this way. Nevertheless that’s exactly where we need to be, where we’ll want to be; for empty of all our righteousness we cling to Christ and find life.
Pentecost 3 A
Our God: The Patron of Lost Causes
Speaking of Lost Causes, take a listen to these stories. In New Orleans, a man broke into a home and stole, some jewelry and took the home owner’s season tickets to the New Orleans Saints. The police arrested him the following Sunday at the Superdome. He was not only sitting in the homeowner’s seat, but was wearing his jewelry.
Here’s another. R.C. Gaitlin, 21, walked up to two patrol officers who were showing their squad car computer equipment to children in a Detroit neighborhood. When he asked how the system worked, the officers asked to use his I.D. for an example. Gaitlin promptly gave them his driver’s license. They entered it into the computer, and moments later they Gaitlin was arrested. Information on the screen showed that Gaitlin was wanted for a two-year-old armed robbery in St. Louis, Missouri.
Finally, here’s two more who vied for lost cause of the year. Two men in Pennsylvania were recently sentenced to 24 years in prison for robbing a bank. That was dumb. But what really took the cake was the fact that they were easily identified by the bank’s security cameras because the two had somehow come to the ludicrous conclusion that rubbing citric acid on their faces would somehow blur their images on the monitoring screens.
There’s just no respect for the criminal these days, especially when they show as little forethought as these here.
It’s fairly clear there wasn’t any respect for them in Jesus’ day either. In particular there was no respect for Matthew’s brand of thievery. He was a tax collector, probably a lot sharper than these we’ve mentioned here today; but still likely the butt of many jokes and likely the shame of his parents. He had sold out to the Roman stench that had invaded the homeland. Here was this man of the priestly tribe of Levi, serving the interest of the pagan invaders and stealing from his countrymen on top of it. That’s how tax collectors made their lucrative living. They would over bill taxpayers or use their positions to extort money that wasn’t due them. And for that they were especially hated. Note, they’re in a class of losers all to themselves, specifically noted even in distinction from other sinners. Lost causes, all of them, even as some have been labeled today.
Oh, not so much tax collects. While some have been guilty of excesses, the IRS is pretty much an accepted institution. Not a popular one, but an accepted one.
Nevertheless we still have those we’re all the more ready to label as losers. And this is true, not just of our society at large. It also comes from within the very walls of our churches. As a people of God we sometimes want to pick and choose. We look down upon some people, even some of our fellow members, and conclude that they’re a lost cause; that they’re not worth the trouble we’re going to, to include them; that they’re not worth the effort we’re making to restore them when they’ve strayed; that there are still others that are more worthy of our labors than these.
I was reading the other day the report of a brother in Christ who had been invited to speak to a college class. He spent the last hour answering the rather sobering questions of students in their mid twenties, many of single women with children who had no church affiliation because they had been made to feel as if they were not good enough to go to church. The whole experience was difficult and raised a number of questions in his mind, questions that I believe we too must ask. “What is there about us that people, who make mistakes, who yearn to leave that life and be restored and who yearn to grow as part of a Christian Community nevertheless feel left out in the cold? What does this say about us? Have we gotten too proper and respectable that we’ve distanced ourselves from those who truly need to experience God’s redeeming love, that we’ve separated ourselves from the very people our Lord Jesus would reach out to in order to save?”
Hear those words of Jesus today again. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
It was a challenge the rest of the disciples that day too. There’s no question, that they looked at Jesus’ choice of Matthew with the same level of disdain as the Pharisees. Matthew had stolen from them too. But now here’s what Jesus was trying to get across. There’s really no distinction between men in the eyes of God.
Was Matthew a sinner? You bet. And Jesus doesn’t ever say that he was not. Yet so were those who would condemn him. They were sinners by their very exclusion and lack of mercy in the face of one who quite obviously had now left his former life and was desiring something new. They were losers too in the very fact that they could not extend a forgiving and restoring hand. That’s the lesson He would have them learn when he quotes from and reminds them that God desires mercy, not sacrifice; mercy that they were now denying this bleeding heart in their midst and that we have at times denied to others who have come among us. Lost causes, all of us.