September 21, 2011

On the church year calendar, September 21 is set aside for St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist. The selected readings for the day are Ezekiel 2:8-3:11, Ephesians 4:7-16, and Matthew 9:9-13.

I found this definition of a “low-life” on good old Wikipedia.

“A low-life is a term for a person who is considered morally unacceptable by their community especially those who exploit others for their own selfish purposes. Examples of people who are often called ‘lowlifes’ are drug dealers, drug users, thugs, hustlers, con artists, pimps, greedy landlords, spammers, corrupt lawyers and corrupt politicians, and other authority figures.”

Had they access to input into Wikipedia, someone from Jesus’ day would have most certainly added, “tax collectors” to the list.

Mathew, before being assigned September 21 as his day and referred to as “saint” and “Apostle and Evangelist,” was most definitely a low-life–perhaps even lower. He not only exploited others for his own selfish purposes, he exploited his own people, God’s people, and in the name of an oppressive, pagan government.

Then Matthew the low-life met Jesus the Lord of Life (Matthew 9:9-13). The initial conversation was short, “Follow me.” Matthew did. They end up eating at Matthew’s house with a variety of other low-lifes–a very uncool and unclean thing for a Rabbi to do. Eager to point this out, the Pharisees said to His disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners [low-lifes]?” Jesus, eager to summarize His earthly mission, answers, “For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

I am very thankful for that answer for, like Matthew, I too am a low-life. There clings to me a nature that is morally unacceptable to God. But I, the low-life, met Jesus the Lord of Life in the waters of holy Baptism. There in those waters I was crucified with Him, I died with Him, I was given new life with Him and because of Him. In the splashing of that water, He said, “Follow me.” He cleansed my sin and covered me with His sinlessness. Even though I do not have a day like Matthew, I do share one of his titles—saint.

Other than the one you see in the mirror, perhaps you know some low-lifes who really need to hear and understand Jesus’ answer that He came especially for them. Many people who struggle with a variety of life-related issues are among those who need to know about this kind of Savior. Because the Gospel of Jesus speaks so powerfully to the life issues, those who consider themselves “pro-lifers” may also want to assume one of Matthew’s other titles—evangelist. Like Jesus, we can meet people where they are. We can offer them compassion and help, truth, and grace.

Matthew’s day reminds us that Jesus came to love the low-lifes and that He calls us to do the same.