A hand of welcome or of exclusion – most people reject him, but what is Jesus saying to Matthew? We continue with Sister Johanna’s reflection on the calling of Matthew.
And Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” And Matthew got up and followed him. (See Matthew 9:9).
Jesus’ sure-footedness here takes my breath away. What a thrilling moment in Matthew’s life. I find myself entering into Matthew’s thoughts, seeing him in my imagination. He’s not adding up figures; he is sitting absolutely still. He’s just heard Jesus speak to him. Jesus said, “Follow me.” Matthew suddenly has a huge amount of emotion to process in no time at all. His head’s in a whirl. Matthew, the despised tax collector, finds that Jesus – this radiantly good and kind man – has noticed him, really seen him, even ‘read’ him.
Matthew feels confused and flustered by this affirmation – he’s not used to it. People rarely even look at him, and now this! From a holy man! He doesn’t quite know what to think. He habitually kept his defences up in order to shield himself from the hostility that was directed against him every working day of his life, but now, this Jesus actually wanted Matthew to be around. Most people couldn’t see too little of Matthew, but Jesus had just said, “Follow me.” ‘Follow him where?’ Matthew thinks. ‘Why? To do what? Nothing is adding up,’ Matthew thinks. But then, in an overwhelming flash of insight in which he sees his entire life in an utterly new way, he realises that things don’t have to ‘add up’ anymore – and Jesus was getting away! Jesus was walking down the road. Hurry, Matthew! Matthew rises from his seat, he stands. He walks, he runs – runs right out of his hated tax office and races down the street following Jesus.
And Jesus? Jesus’ methods are always surprising. Here, Jesus actually gives Matthew an instant ‘open door’ into discipleship. Jesus does not coddle, coax, explain or make lavish promises, but he wastes no time in realising his plans. He says ‘Follow me,’ and then he gives Matthew himself to follow. He turns. He walks. What was important for Jesus was to determine whether Matthew could really leave his chains. Any hesitation on Matthew’s part would have signalled an addiction to his sad situation, a perverse liking for its misery and loneliness – perhaps because of the pseudo-importance it conferred. And Matthew comes through the test brilliantly. He was ready. He follows as soon as he can scramble through the doorway. He becomes a disciple. Nowhere in the New Testament is it suggested that Matthew ever looks back.
Tomorrow, we’ll see what conclusions we can draw from these reflections.