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"Such Faith"

As the gospel says, Jesus was walking along, saw Matthew sitting in his tax booth, and said, “Follow me.” It seems so random – as if Jesus selects him on a whim!

Matthew from “The Chosen”
Matthew from “The Chosen”

Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26

June 11, 2023

Dr. Todd R. Wright Aron Ralston was as good as dead. While hiking a trail in a narrow desert canyon in Utah, a boulder fell on him, pinning his right wrist. For five days he tried to free himself. He became dehydrated and delirious. He carved his name, date of birth and presumed date of death into the sandstone canyon wall, and videotaped his last goodbyes to his family. “To his surprise, he survived the night, and in the morning a new idea came to him — a divine revelation, he felt. He understood he had to cut off his arm. He knew his knife could never cut through his bones, but realized that if he twisted his body enough, the boulder and the canyon wall would function as a vise grip until his forearm bones snapped. After that, he could cut the remaining muscle and nerves. He succeeded. He was able to amputate his arm, went looking for help and encountered the search party that was looking for him.”[2] When a National Public Radio interviewer asked Ralston about his decision, he replied: “The moment when I figured out how I could get free, it was the best idea and the most beautiful experience I will ever have in my life ... It was all euphoria and not a bit of horror. It was having my life back after being dead.”[3]

 

You may remember Ralston’s story from the film 127 Hours, starring James Franco. Or you may recognize the echoes of stories throughout scripture. In today’s passage alone there are several characters who are as good as dead: Matthew – who had a job that made him wealthy, but despised. A little girl – who had grown sick and died, like so many other first century children. Her father, the leader of the local synagogue – who couldn’t imagine life without her. A woman – who had been bleeding for twelve years. Each encountered Jesus and got their life back.

 

The scene of Jesus calling Matthew, as imagined by the show “The Chosen” is amazing![4] As the gospel says, Jesus was walking along, saw Matthew sitting in his tax booth, and said, “Follow me.” It seems so random – as if Jesus selects him on a whim! But there is tension there – as if a bottle has been shaken and this is the cork being pulled! And, in the dramatization, there is also humor – as if Jesus is having fun with this crazy calling: The Roman soldier standing guard can’t believe Matthew would even consider joining Jesus. “Have you lost your mind? You have money, protection. You’re going to throw it all away?” “Yes!” is Matthew’s one word reply. Simon Peter is just as surprised as the soldier. He objects to Jesus, “Do you have any idea what this guy’s done? Do you even know him? I don’t get it!” And Jesus replies, “You didn’t get it when I chose you either!”

 

Time and distance may have dulled the impact of Jesus calling Matthew, a tax collector, but it was absolutely life saving! One preacher writes: “Tax-collectors were despised for they were often believed to cheat the people whose taxes they were instructed to collect. They were considered to be no better than swindlers and murderers; they were believed to be guilty of flagrant moral offenses.”[5] Another writes, “An empire that profited from the conquered recruited people who were just enough on the edge of community, just shut out enough, to take some small chance at profit under tremendous risk. They recruited those who were even more on the margins, people who didn't have land to farm or means to work a trade, and who would take work by which they might subsist, though it would make them outcast even further from the community.”[6] No one would have wanted him as a neighbor or a relative. No one would have tapped Matthew as worthy of being a follower of God’s anointed or picked him as a friend. Can you imagine how lonely that must have been? As we found out during COVID, loneliness can kill. Not this time! Jesus chooses him. He sees something in him. He wants him as a follower. And Matthew shows such faith! He does not hesitate. He leaves everything and follows!

 

A little while later a leader of the synagogue comes and asks Jesus to help him. In Mark and Luke, his daughter is dying, and he is seeking healing. That takes a lot of faith. In Matthew’s version, she has just died. And still he believes that Jesus can do something! He shows such faith that Jesus got up and followed him! Make no mistake, though, that faith comes at a cost. By turning to Jesus, he is risking his status as a leader. He is risking his place in the community. He is putting his reputation on the line. There are some who will question his wisdom, his sanity, his judgment. Time and distance mask what a bold move this is. We know who Jesus is. We know his power to heal. We know how this will turn out. He doesn’t. All he has is the desperate love of a father … and faith.

 

And then, while Jesus was going to the leader’s house, his progress was interrupted by a woman who has been hemorrhaging blood for twelve long years. She should not be out in the street. She should not be interacting with anyone. Blood loss has made her body weak. More importantly, she is considered ritually unclean. And the community has rules about people like her – rules that define her, that isolate her, that bind her. The other gospel writers say she has spent everything she had on treatments and medicine. They say that nothing has worked. Nothing! Like Matthew, she has been cut off from the community. She must be so lonely! Like the synagogue leader, she is desperate, asking for the impossible! And so, with faith that is stronger than her fear, stronger than the community’s disapproval, she reaches out for him. And she is healed! Not by touching him. Jesus wants everyone to understand that. She is healed by her faith!

 

And with that we finally get to the girl’s bedside. It is too late. The mourners are already there, wailing and playing flutes. In “The Chosen” version everyone is ready to send Jesus away. Everyone but the girl’s father.[7] He still has faith in Jesus. And so, Jesus took the little girl by the hand, and she got up!

 

Each of these stories are of people getting their lives back when they were as good as dead. Each of these are tales of desperation and courage, sure, but mostly they are about faith! We live in challenging times, just as they did. Faith will give us life! Amen


[1] Matthew from “The Chosen” [2] From “As good as dead” Felipe Martinez’ reflections on the text for the Christian Century, 5/31/05 [3] From https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=101420504 [4] See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IUL9yq0We8 [5] From Cleophus LaRue’s reflections on the text for workingpreacher.org, 6/11/23 [6] From Sarah Dylan Breuer’s reflections on the text at “Dylan’s Lectionary Blog”, 5/31/05 [7] See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5MbgcATzCo
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