The Unavoidable Lessons We All NeedFr. Barnabas Powell
Let’s face it; we all have to deal with the consequences of adulthood. Growing up means learning necessary life lessons. But avoiding these lessons means a perpetual childishness that ruins relationships!
My daughter has now gotten her first job. And just the other day, I was talking to her and she was saying she was going to do this and that and I reminded her that she was scheduled to work on that day! “Oh,” she said as the implications of her new work schedule dawned on her. “I guess I have to change my plans!” Yep. Welcome to the adult world of responsibility!
So, how do we face such moments in life as believers? How do we navigate our lives in such a way that we don’t live frivolous lives but also don’t make our lives a never-ending drudgery? I know how people who lack faith handle these situations because there have been times in my life when faith was weak or even missing I’ve faced moments like this in a variety of ways; from procrastination, thinking that if I just ignore it, it will go away (it won’t); to actual dishonesty; to anger and destructive reaction. All of these less-than-faithful ways of dealing with challenges all revealed spiritual illness and, to this day, invite me to repentance and humility. (hint, hint!) We can’t be afraid of getting our hands dirty! Doing the work pays off IF we stay attentive.
Look at our Gospel Lesson today in Matthew 9:9-13:
At that time, as Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
And as he sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Frankly, I can’t think of anything more unpleasant than taxes! The seemingly senseless and bureaucratic way our government “collects” taxes is practically a byword in practically every culture and throughout history. Tax collectors in the Lord’s day had a horrible reputation because they were seen as collaborators with the occupying Roman government. Add to that that their income was based on how much they collected and the tax collectors of Jesus’ day were even more infamous than our own IRS! They were simply not trusted and they were considered traitors to their people. And the Lord chooses one of these folks as His disciple! Poor St. Matthew.
But notice this tax collector, knowing what he was thought of in the community, and knowing his own heart, responds immediately to the Lord’s call to “follow” Him. A pretty good example, don’t you think? Matthew sprang into action when the Lord called him revealing the inner truth of Matthew’s life. He was ready to move when called. And the lessons he confronted are the same lessons facing us today.
Difficult times, difficult relationships, difficult situations, and difficult choices are all made more clear when a faithful person embraces three undeniable lessons from today’s Gospel!
First, Obedience is necessary. St. Matthew “rose and followed Him.” It is embracing obedience to that which is right and holy that “simplifies” even the most complicated situation. It usually is in our attempts to try to “negotiate” with what is right that makes the difficult situation worse. Obedience presupposes a heart humble enough, attentive enough, and loving enough to trust that the Lord is right and His way is best. Obedience avoids the pitfalls of a divided heart and says “Yes, Lord” when wisdom is given. Simple and straightforward obedience is key!
Next, The sick need the Physician. We never have the strength to press through a difficult time without awareness of our spiritual illness and need for God’s healing mercy and grace. This is at the heart of true Repentance! Admitting I need a spiritual Physician reveals my willingness to know myself well enough and be honest with myself to the point I can see where I’m weak and I seek out the Lord and His healing wisdom. When I forget I need His healing, I try to “work out” my problems with my strength, and my wisdom. Guess how that usually turns out?
Finally, Mercy is absolute. Mercy for yourself. Mercy for the other. And Mercy for everyone involved. Now that doesn’t mean letting things slide or living in denial about reality, but it does mean making sure that you keep at the center of your heart and mind the reality that we are all spiritually “sick” and in need of grace. Even those who hate us need mercy because they give us what our friends never will – another invitation for us to be humble and repent. Even that one who has hurt you, who has let you down, and who you sometimes have to say goodbye to, yes, that one, needs mercy and grace and humility and repentance just like you!
St. Matthew was a Galilean and the son of a man named Alphaeus. His job as a tax collector for Rome meant he was a Publican. If that sounds familiar, it is probably the story of the Publican and the Pharisee that you are thinking of. That story reveals just why the Lord chose a Publican (tax collector) to be one of the original 12 Apostles. St. Matthew was also called “Levi” and he was the first to write a Gospel account of the Lord’s life and saving ministry. He wrote his Gospel originally in Hebrew because he desired his people, the people of Judea, to know their Messiah had come. St. Matthew died a martyr’s death in Ethiopia sometime before the end of the first century.
Today, are you putting off doing what you should? On this second day of the Nativity Fast, I know it’s scary and you wonder what will happen, but if you have the courage and the humility to embrace Obedience, Repentance, and Mercy, you will have the strength to do and be what you must! The spiritual disciplines of the Faith will strengthen you in learning these Lessons! Practice them and you will be on your way to Living a Normal Orthodox Life!
P.S. When you cast away the publican’s balance and were united to the yoke of uprightness, then did you prove a merchant of great excellence, one that gathered in the wealth of the wisdom of Heaven; for this cause, the word of truth did you herald, O Matthew and you arouse the souls of sluggish men by signifying the dread day of reckoning.