In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
The prophet Ezekiel lived in Babylon 500some years Before Christ. He had been carted away from his home land of Israel by the Babylonian king, from the temple of Jerusalem where he was supposed to be a priest. God was about to allow His temple to be destroyed. For though He is slow in anger and abounding in steadfast love (Exodus 34:6, etc.) He will act, just like a parent, to curb his rebellious child’s bad behaviour for their own good. He will punish his child for the sake of saving and teaching his child (Deuteronomy 8:1-10, 16). And so after 100s of years of prophets warning His people to repent and live in His covenanted love for them, He brought the forewarned consequences down on them (Deuteronomy 8:11-20). Exile (Deuteronomy 4:25-27; Nehemiah 1:8; Leviticus 26:27-33). Destruction of their land, city, and temple (Deuteronomy 28:58-64). Ezekiel was a priest. He had been exiled from his calling, his duty. Yet in Babylon he received a different calling from Lord: to be prophet (Ezekiel 1:1-3; 2:1-3:4), a speaker of His Word.
Nearly 600 years later a wayward, rebellious, money-grubbing, Matthew, a traitor to his people was called by the word of God in the flesh to follow Him, and ultimately to preach Him. This rebellious child, called by God, repented, and leapt up from his booth of ill gotten gains and hosted this all merciful One at his own house (Luke 5:27-29; Mark 2:14-15).
But of course, who does a sinner hang out with but other sinners? And so at this feast are more tax collectors, more unsavoury types. There is Jesus sullying Himself in their presence. Eating at a table with the party crowd. You and I know their type today. For you and I generally avoid those folks. Which means we have more in common with the Pharisees than the sinners Jesus hung around. Afterall, we have tended to make different choices in our lives than that scene does. And even if you were once part of it, you probably aren’t so much any more.
And so we gloss over this stuff and tell ourselves that we merciful and kind. But examine your own heart and thoughts. When you see those punks hanging out in the food court, busking on Bay Street, or restlessly idling around the bars. Maybe you were there once, and now thank God for His grace to you, but since those day you’ve done some work to straighten out a bit. Make better choices. You’ve had a family. Etc. And you probably aren’t so comfortable there any more. But that’s where Jesus went. That’s who Jesus sought. That’s who Jesus called as one of His Twelve. As an eyewitness biographer to all He did!
For our Lord says, “I came to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) “Not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13) “To heal those who know they need it.” (Matthew 9:12) “For I desire mercy not sacrifice.” (Matthew 9:13; Hosea 6:6) He is about mercy. Not about giving stuff up. Not about being a better person, but claiming you as His person, redeeming you from whatever enslaves you
But there is a tension there. When His mercy gets into you there are things you’ll end up give up like sinful choices, and behaviours that are hurting you and others around you. You don’t do it because it makes Him happy, but because His mercy has shown you a better way. And the longer you live in that better way, the more separated you become from foolish “ways of your youth” (Psalm 25:7; Job 13:26). And after a while you forget how easy it is to get caught up in sins of youth. For the sins of age are often subtler, less obvious, easier to hide, or excuse. And the older you get, the more judgmental you get about youngsters and their frivolous ways.
But. He is not interested in the self-righteous. He is interested in sinners. We might joke and say that afterall they are more interesting. But that’s not what is going on here. He is telling you, young or old, “righteous” or “sinner” you’re all in same boat. For there ain’t no one righteous like Christ. And because He is righteous, perfect in love, He doesn’t demand perfection from you. He doesn’t require you to sacrifice everything to achieve or buy perfection. His righteousness is perfected in loving kindness. And love is verb. Love is active (“hesed” in the Hebrew of Hosea 6:6). It is mercy. That’s what He desires. That’s what He is: loving kindness.
And guess what? You are loved. You know it not by the changing circumstances of life. But by those things that are sure. Those things He has given witness to. Those things He has had written down by His apostles, prophets, and evangelists so that His loving kindness is made known to you. So that you may know that on His cross He loved you to the full. That in your baptism in His name He has poured it out on you. That at His table He fills you with His love again. For that’s what he desires. That you be loved.
And what love! Love that calls a Matthew. A man who lived for money and what it could buy. A man who sucked life and love out of everyone by sitting as a watchman at the gate to suck money from you. By the authority of Rome, and Roman soldiers standing behind him. Taking his own cut. Living off fat of the land. While others were dying under the burden. You can imagine that he was despised, shunned, keeping company only with those like him and those he could buy.
This book has delivered Jesus into the ears and hearts of millions of souls. Just as Ezekiel ate the word of God and it was sweet to Him, so spiritually Matthew has fed millions. That’s pretty good work for a no good dirty sinner. But that’s how our God works. For He’s in redemption business. And He wills, wishes, desires loving kindness, not sacrifice, not religiosity, not fake goodness put on to buy off a foolish deity who apparently can’t see through such shallowness.
Mathew was called. Ezekiel was called. You are called. Away from yourself. To something better. Something lasting. Something saving. Jesus. They were called specifically to the public ministry of proclaiming God’s word. You may not be called to that, but having been called to Jesus, you can’t help it if His Word slips out of you. For you are called to Him, to His presence. To His Word. To His mercy. And it will work on you. It will change you. So that you are merciful as He is merciful. So that you speak His mercy, so that you give His mercy, just as you have received His mercy.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thubder Bay, ON