Sights and Insights
Devotion for Sept. 21, 2021
Passing along, Jesus saw a man at his work collecting taxes. His name was Matthew. Jesus said, “Come along with me.” Matthew stood up and followed him.Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. “What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and misfits?” – Matthew 9:9-11 (The Message)
Today is the feast day for St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist. It is the day of the church year when Matthew is remembered and honored. As a congregation named after this disciple, it is worth remembering this day. More than that, it is worth reflecting on the particularities of Matthew’s ministry. Bearing the name of Matthew suggests that in some way the particular calling of our congregation was intended to reflect the ministry of its namesake. Of course we are engaged in the ministry of Christ, but within that ministry there are a variety of ways of being a disciple.
Matthew was one of the original Twelve Disciples, and is included in all four lists of apostles in the New Testament (Matt. 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16), and Acts 1:13). Matthew 9:9 tells the call story of Matthew, identifying him as a tax collector. As with all of the Twelve, little is known with certainty about him beyond this. There are many traditions and conjectures, however. Most scholars believe he is also known as Levi, though it is far from certain. Tradition also credits him as the author of the Gospel of Matthew, but most scholars think this is unlikely. Nonetheless, I would suggest thinking of Matthew the Gospel-writer as part of the namesake legacy of the congregation.
The Gospel of Matthew was likely written around 90 AD. The author was likely a second-generation Jewish Christian who was part of a prosperous urban Greek-speaking congregation that was persecuted to some degree by both the Gentile community and the Jewish community in the area. Antioch is considered to be the most likely candidate for a city that matches that profile. The author Matthew, then, was working to explain the gospel of Christ in a mixed context. He was well trained in Jewish traditions but working in a multi-cultural context that used Greek as a common language. He was aiming to hold onto the Jewish traditions that were central to Jesus’ life and ministry while making them accessible to the cosmopolitan world of the members of his church community. In this way, Matthew’s Gospel is very much a work of showing the ways in which the love of God known in Christ crosses boundaries.
For us, then, as part of St. Matthew Lutheran Church, we can see our work in terms of the evangelistic mission of making God’s love in Christ known in a multi-cultural and multi-religious context. We are called to be witnesses to the boundary-crossing love of God that we know in Christ, holding onto our traditions while also working to make the message accessible to the pluralistic world around us.