A few years ago I was on flight back home from Atlanta to Little Rock and for the first time experienced a flight delay due to mechanical difficulties. My twin brother Danny was with me and has happened to have had experiences like this more commonly, so I thought maybe his bad aeronautic luck rubbed off on me. It turned out that the plane was held up by single screw being loose on one of the wings (which, naturally, reminded me of the Twilight Zone episode in which William Shatner hallucinated that there was a gremlin on the wing of the plane, mischievously destroying a wing).
My point is that a single screw held up the flight, and none of us could move on until it was fixed. There was something that must be taken care of before we moved on.
In the same way, repentance is something in our lives that we must take care of if we are going to move on to a true relationship with God. Before we can arrive safely at our destination of being in the arms of God, we must take care of the dangerous obstacle of sin in our lives.
In Matthew 9, Jesus calls Matthew, five chapters after He called the four fishermen. There’s something unusual about the calling of Matthew, in fact several things. Unlike the fishermen, who were called in pairs, Matthew is called by himself. While the profession of James, John, Peter, and Andrew was that of a fisherman, Matthew was a tax collector. But a tax collector is not just a tax collector. If you’ve read the Gospels very often, then you know that “tax collector” and “prostitute” were stock categories of people known to be sinful. The Pharisees make this clear in verse 11, when they ask Jesus’ disciples: “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus’ answer is classic Jesus: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
What’s especially astounding about this call is that the person recording this passage about Jesus’ calling sinners to repentance and about the call of Matthew the sinful tax collector is none other than Matthew himself! It’s intriguing to think about writing a Gospel of Jesus Christ and then coming to the part where you’re called by Jesus!
The call to repentance is very real and personal: it certainly was in Matthew’s life!
The fact is that Jesus calls sinners to be His disciples, not those who are righteous, and so in the Gospel story, Jesus calls not only fishermen but also a tax collector. In fact, Jesus calls nothing but sinners to Himself.
Jesus calls sinners to Himself. It’s the essence of the Gospel, but somehow when I see it in Matthew’s life I realize the wonder of it in my own. You and I are the tax collectors, the sinners, who Jesus is calling!
In order to call us, Jesus first spends time with sinners. First, He called Matthew. Then, when they were together at table, other sinners came and sat down with Jesus and His disciples. How did they get there? In one way or another, Jesus called them. Some, He called by a direct command, such as Matthew and the 4 fishermen. Others, He called by His teaching, and yet others by His miracles. Some came because of the testimony of others, and, of course, there is His own welcoming presence among them. If he hadn’t been willing to spend time with them and to get into their lives, then very few would have responded to His call.
Gallery Owner: I have some good news and some bad news.
Artist: What’s the good news?
Gallery Owner: The good news is that a man came in here today asking if the price of your paintings would go up after you die. When I told him they would he bought every one of your paintings.
Artist: That’s great! What’s the bad news?
Gallery Owner: The bad news is that man was your doctor!
The Gospel, the story of how God saves man, is a Bad news/ Good news story, and for that reason it’s a comedy and not a tragedy. As one preacher has said: “I can’t save you until I’ve lost you first.”
The bad news is that each and every one of you – each and every one of us– is a sinner, who, apart from the grace of God, is dead in his sins and deserves to spend eternity apart from God. But the good news is that God calls sinners to Himself.
But that’s not the end of the story. You’ve heard the phrase: “What if they threw a party – and nobody came?” What if God threw the greatest party in the world – the banquet feast of His Son – and nobody came? It’s not enough that God calls sinners: sinners must make the choice to come to Jesus, if they are to be saved.
When Jesus called, Matthew came. We don’t hear the whole story, but I’m sure Matthew knew his own sins and knew that he could not become a disciple of Jesus without repenting of his sins: the first words of Jesus’ public ministry were, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
Matthew, if he wanted to come to Jesus as a sinner, had to confront his own sin; confess it before His Lord; and follow Jesus. Notice that he left his tax booth to follow Jesus. He turned from his old way of life, and that’s true repentance.
The wonderful thing is that like Matthew and the fishermen, God is calling each of you to Himself. But the only way to come is through true repentance from the sin in your life.
There is a sinner I know who felt awful inside, but he didn’t know why. He made himself and others miserable, and sometimes he didn’t think life was worth living. He knew he should repent and went through the motions, and in some way truly meant it. But he effectively deflected true repentance. Finally, he turned completely to God and His mercy and acknowledged that he himself was the main reason he was miserable. He had been carrying this burden of guilt for years, and it had made him a very unlikable person. But after he had fully confessed, from the heart, his countenance changed. His face became brighter, and he felt as if he were flying! I counseled him to repent every day and to not return to his old ways.
Who is this sinner? I’m not going to tell (not even if you say, “Pretty please!”) But it could have been you.
Jesus Christ is calling a world full of sinners to Himself. And it’s your job to respond by coming to Him with true repentance. It’s not the repentance that’s to be feared: it’s the sin! Jesus is calling you, a sinner, to Himself today.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Points for Meditation:
- Do you confess your sins on a daily basis? What would be a good daily time for you to do this?
- Get quiet for a few moments and listen for the voice of the Lord. Do you hear Him calling to you? What is He saying?
Resolution: I resolve to listen for the voice of my Master today.
© 2014 Fr. Charles Erlandson