Sunday, September 21, 2014

Are we just playing with our friends, or do we really care what happens to them?


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When our Lord Jesus Christ said Judge not lest you be judged He was telling us to beware of thinking that we know another person’s spiritual condition.  That is particularly true of people who at first glance appear to be on the brink of hell.  Consider the party animal, who to all appearances cares nothing about the needs of his soul.  Yet all it might take would be a kind word from you to show him the vanity of his pursuits.  All it might take is a loving deed to make him hunger and thirst after righteousness.  All it would take is genuine care to awaken in him the need for something real and solid.  In Jesus’ time, people thought of tax collectors very badly.  They made a profit from Israel’s subjection to the Gentiles.  Some of them made large fortunes.  Yet our Blessed Lord chose one of that despised class to be an apostle, and as if that weren’t enough, also an evangelist. That man was Matthew.

Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, while Matthew was sitting in the custom office.  It would have been near the docks because Matthew was collecting duties on goods that were being unloaded.  Nothing in the story indicates that Matthew was particularly wealthy, but he was despised.  He was connected by his occupation with everything that caused people to despise tax collectors.  The Lord only had to call him once.  Perhaps he was predisposed to follow Jesus, but that did not matter, because it was not Matthew’s choice, it was the Lord’s.  The power of God’s Word is great enough make the call effective.  Please don’t ask what Jesus saw in Matthew.  What does He see in you?  What reason do we give Him to open the Fountain of Life in our midst?  Didn’t He say The last shall be first?  Wasn’t one of His closest friends Mary Magdalene?  Did she deserve His attention?  That was never the point.  Jesus has pity on the weak and despised of the world, including the spiritually weak and religiously despised.  He calls the prisoners in the cells, and the worldly in the trappings of their luxury.  He calls the bums who hit bottom on the street, and the depressed who flee into the darkness.  No one deserves His attention.  The wonder is that Jesus is not ashamed to seek eternal jewels for His crown in the most vile places.

Notice He said two words to Matthew, Follow me.  Now as I said before, Matthew might have been predisposed to follow.  Everyone in Capernaum knew what had happened earlier that day when Jesus healed the paralytic and offended the religious people by forgiving his sins.  One can imagine Matthew making people wait in line at the custom office while he tried to get a look, then after an anonymous kick in the rear from the crowd, returning to the safety of his own turf.  But Jesus had chosen Matthew, and whether Matthew came to Him or not, Jesus would go to Matthew.  He said "Follow me," and Matthew did.  He didn’t make any excuses.  He didn’t procrastinate.  He left the custom business of the day undone.  We might think that was irresponsible, but from the standpoint of eternity, did it matter?  He had to obey.  He even obeyed to the point of blessed martyrdom.  Jesus called, Matthew followed.  The Word created faith.

Before he laid down his life, Matthew served the Lord for many years, beginning by having a dinner at his house and inviting the other tax collectors.  Notice, he was immediately concerned about his peers, his fellow laborer’s in Caesar’s vineyard.  What a marvelous idea!  Invite all your friends to a banquet and seriously proclaim the Word to them.  Would we have trouble with that?  Are we judging?  Do we assume that our friends, relatives and neighbors are spiritually alive because they’re nice, or because we wish they were?  Do we, as some people put it, "value their friendship too much to bring up serious subjects"?  What kind of friend is that?  If you can only be a friend where vanities are concerned, and not in the serious business of life – which certainly includes eternity, then you aren’t much of a friend at all.  I do not mean that you should obnoxiously push Jesus into people’s faces.  That’s a dumb strategy.  What I mean is you know your own friends best.  You know what sort of thing will get them to listen to you.  Use that knowledge to get them to turn, to lead them to the Fountain of Life, and until they are blessed by the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, the washing of regeneration, one ought not think that their sins are forgiven.  We might speak a public absolution every Sunday, but it does not apply to those who are not baptized.  The fist time the pastor absolves your sins, he has to use water.

Matthew had learned the one name under heaven whereby we must be saved.  He wanted his friends to learn it, too.  The treasure of the Church is not one we want to bury, or admire when nobody’s looking.  Rather, it’s more like an oil well that has value as long as we keep pumping it out for distribution.  He gathered his peers to the One Name, and pumped out the spiritual blessings to the other publicans; and Jesus was glad.  He found Himself in the company of these ill-favored people and jumped at the chance to be the Great Physician of the spiritually sick.  He did not tell them to start a new group of disciples made up of tax collectors.  He welcomed them with His followers.  This caused the religious people to criticize Him even more than before, but they did not understand His mission.  God desires mercy, not sacrifice.  That has not changed since Jesus’ time.

What about you?  Do you fully understand Jesus’ mission?  He did not come into this world to make you nice.  If by the grace of God you have maintained good character, be thankful.  If you have a good credit rating on earth, be thankful, but never think that such things will qualify you for eternal life.  You need the medicine of the Great Physician.  You need Jesus’ mercy and pity every bit as much as Matthew did.  You need the cross, the blood, the atonement that Jesus made.  Your peers need it, too.  Just because they go to church, are nice, and have a good credit rating, you cannot take for granted what their spiritual state might be.  To assume a person is righteous is just as much judging as to assume a person is impenitent.  Do not judge either way.  Everyone needs to be born again of water and the Spirit.  Everyone needs his sins cleansed by the blood of Jesus.  On the other hand, never give up on anyone who seems to you to be beyond redemption.  It is, after all, the sick who need the doctor.  Lead that fallen friend, lead him by ways you know because you are close to him, lead him to the restoring blood of Jesus.  Let the Lord cover him with the same mercy that covered those tax collectors in Capernaum 2000 years ago.  His compassion is boundless.  The angels will have a party when that person repents, and when you join their company, you will have a part in it. AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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