Daily Reading & Meditation

Friday (July 4):  Jesus calls sinners to come follow him

Scripture:  Matthew 9:9-13

9 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. 10 And as he sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"  12 But when he heard it, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."

Meditation: Do you know what God's call is on your life? Jesus called Matthew to be his follower and friend, not because Matthew was religious or learned, popular or saintly. Matthew appeared to be none of these. He had chosen to live a life of comfort and wealth. His profession was probably the most corrupted and despised by everyone in society, because tax collectors made themselves wealthy by over-charging and threatening people if they did not hand over their money to them. What did Jesus see in Matthew that others did not see?

God searches for yearning hearts
One lesson we can learn from the Old Testament is that God searches for hearts that yearn for him. When God sent the prophet Samuel to the house of Jesse to pick one of his sons to be the future heir to the throne of Israel, Jese put before the prophet the oldest and strongest of his sons. Samuel bypassed all the first seven sons and then chose David, the youngest and least of Jesse's sons! "God looks at the heart and not at the appearance of a man," Samuel declared. David's heart was like a compass looking for true north - it pointed to God.

When Jesus saw Matthew sitting at his tax office - very likely counting his day's profit - Jesus spoke only two words - "follow me". Those two words changed Matthew from being a self-serving profiteer to a God-serving apostle who would bring the treasures of God's kingdom to the poor and needy.Why did Jesus pick Matthew to be a disciple and one of the chosen twelve apostles? Jesus chose Matthew not for what he was, but for what he would become under Jesus direction and training. Matthew's heart must have yearned for God, even though he dare not show his face in a synagogue - the Jewish house of prayer and study of Torah - God's law. That is why he unhesitatingly accepted Jesus' invitation and left all to follow him.

God looks for hearts ready to say "yes" to his call
John Chrysostom, the great 5th century church father, describes why Jesus decided to call Matthew sometime after he had chosen other disciples first to be his apostles:

"Why did Jesus not call Matthew at the same time as he called Peter and John and the rest? He came to each one at a particular time when he knew that they would respond to him. He came at a different time to call Matthew when he was assured that Matthew would surrender to his call. Similarly, he called Paul at a different time when he was vulnerable, after the resurrection, something like a hunter going after his quarry. for he who is acquainted with our inmost hearts and knows the secrets of our minds knows when each one of us is ready to respond fully. Therefore he did not call them all together at the beginning, when Matthew was still in a hardened condition. Rather, only after countless miracles, after his fame spread abroad, did he call Matthew. He knew Matthew had been softened for full responsiveness."
Jesus is the true physician of minds, souls, and bodies
When the Pharisees challenged Jesus' unorthodox behavior in eating with public sinners, Jesus' defense was quite simple. A doctor doesn't need to visit healthy people; instead he goes to those who are sick. Jesus likewise sought out those in the greatest need. A true physician seeks healing of the whole person - body, mind, and spirit. Jesus came as the divine physician and good shepherd to care for his people and to restore them to wholeness of life.

The orthodox were so preoccupied with their own practice of religion that they neglected to help the very people who needed spiritual care. Their religion was selfish because they didn't want to have anything to do with people not like themselves. Jesus stated his mission in unequivocal terms: I came  not to call the righteous, but to call sinners. Ironically the orthodox were as needy as those they despised. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

On more than one occasion Jesus quoted the saying from the prophet Hosea: For I desire mercy and not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6). Do you thank the Lord for the great mercy he has shown to you?  And do you show mercy to your neighbor as well?

"Lord Jesus, our Savior, let us now come to you: Our hearts are cold; Lord, warm them with your selfless love. Our hearts are sinful; cleanse them with your precious blood. Our hearts are weak; strengthen them with your joyous Spirit. Our hearts are empty; fill them with your divine presence. Lord Jesus, our hearts are yours; possess them always and only for yourself." (Prayer of Augustine, 354-430)

Psalm 119:2,10,20,30,40,131

2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart,
10 With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!
20 My soul is consumed with longing for your ordinances at all times.
30 I have chosen the way of faithfulness, I set your ordinances before me.
40 Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life!
131 With open mouth I pant, because I long for your commandments.

Daily Quote from the early church fathers: When called by Christ, he did not delay, by Chromatius (died 406 AD)

"The Lord, about to give salvation to all sinners believing in him, willingly chose Matthew the former publican. The gift of his esteem for Matthew stands as an example for our salvation. Every sinner must be chosen by God and can receive the grace of eternal salvation if one is not without a religious mind and a devout heart. So Matthew was chosen willingly by God. And though he is immersed in worldly affairs, because of his sincere religious devotion he is judged worthy to be called forth by the Lord ('Follow me'), who by virtue of his divine nature knows the hidden recesses of the heart. From what follows, we know that Matthew was accepted by the Lord not by reason of his status but of his faith and devotion. As soon as the Lord says to him, 'Follow me,' he does not linger or delay, but thereupon 'he arose and followed him.'" (excerpt from TRACTATE ON MATTHEW 45.1)

[Note: Chromatius was an early Christian scholar and bishop of Aquileia, Italy. He was a close friend of John Chrysostom and Jerome. He died in 406 AD. Jerome described him as a "most learned and most holy man."]


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author Don Schwager © 2014 Servants of the Word

Scripture quotations from Common Bible: Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1973, and Ignatius Edition of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 2006, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Citation references for quotes from the writings of the early church fathers.
 

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