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Matthew 9:9-13

The Call to Radical Discipleship

Today is the Feast of St Matthew; one of the Twelve disciples called by Jesus. As we
celebrate these disciples throughout the liturgical year, so we are able to celebrate and
reflect on different aspects of faith, different aspects of what it means for us to be a
disciple of Jesus. As we look at the personalities and stories of the disciples, and the
way they lived out their faith, we see that each one did it differently.
I want to stress the point straight away that no one way of being a disciple is better
than another. There are no degrees of greatness in being a disciple of Jesus. No one
way is better – they are all just different. And so it is with us that we all need to find
our own pattern in following Jesus.
Look at Thomas – he was a doubter. He found it very difficult to believe the truth
about Christ but he was still a disciple and used greatly by God.
Look at Peter – he had all the right words. He thought he knew everything there
was to know about discipleship but more often, when push came to shove, he blew
out with some great failure of faith. But he was still a disciple and used greatly by
God.
Look at Judas Iscariot – the money-minded disciple. He had a strong sense of
economic priorities, he was a very forthright man, but a disillusioned betrayer at the
end. But he was still a disciple and used greatly by God.
There were 12 disciples and they embodied 12 different styles of discipleship.
And so it is, for each one of us too; we will each embody a different style of
discipleship too.
So, this morning, we are going to look at Matthew story and think about what we
can learn from him as we develop our own style of discipleship.
I used to be a Vicar in the East End of London – in Stratford – and my parish was
a strongly Muslim area; the majority of the population were Muslim. And there was a
Mosque opposite my Vicarage, right next to a pub. And every Friday night, I used to
watch a very strange community ritual. About 10 pm each Friday, there were loads of
men spilling out of Taffy Brady’s pub having a good time, getting drunk, out with
their mates, shouting and swearing and generally behaving in an anti-social way. But,
at the same time, about 10 pm, 30 or so Muslim men would come out of the Mosque.
They had spent the evening there in prayer and worship. As they came out, they were
talking about God and sharing their faith with each other. And the contrast to me was
so startling; two completely different attitudes. One group using their spare time to
drink with their mates. The other group using their spare time to worship God.
Now, I’m not saying that we should never have a drink or that we should never be
out having a good time on a Friday night. But there is something about commitment
and the power of radical discipleship that we ignore at our peril. And this is a real
problem for the Christian faith, isn’t it? So few people are prepared to live lives of
radical discipleship. Muslims don’t have that problem; neither do Jehovah’s
Witnesses, Mormons, Sikhs, Hindus and so many other world faiths. And what makes
these other religions so attractive to converts, more often than not, is the call to radical
commitment and a complete revolution of lifestyle.
Ironically, the one thing that we are most afraid of asking from people is the one
thing that would attract them to Christ. Not only do we see that from stories in the
Bible, not only do we see that from lessons in history, but we see it in the modern-day
Church too. The churches that are really thriving and growing are the churches that
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actively promote nothing less than absolute commitment to the cause of Christ. A
commitment like Matthew had; what we might call ‘Matthew discipleship’.
So what does Matthew discipleship look like? As we look at this reading from the
Gospel, we see 4 characteristics

1. Matthew Discipleship is uncompromising in its commitment to Christ

What would you be prepared to give up to sacrifice to follow Jesus? One of the
greatest acts of Christian sacrifice I have ever known was from a friend of mine called
Dave, who became a Christian in prison. I used to visit him and he was always such
an encouragement to me. Six days a week, in his particular unit, the prisoners would
be give porridge or cereal for breakfast: no change to the routine at all. But on a
Sunday, the prisoners were allowed to have a fried breakfast; the culinary highlight of
the week for everyone! But you know what Dave did? Dave fasted on a Sunday, so he
never had his fried breakfast. And he used to say to me: “There’s not much I can give
to God, I haven’t got anything worth giving. But I will give up my fried breakfast to
show him that I love him.”
I have never seen such radical commitment to Jesus before or since. But that is
what we find in Matthew’s story. Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me’ and it says,
‘Matthew got up and followed him’. Now let’s not be fooled by the simplicity of that
phrase because Matthew gave up far more than the other disciples. You know, if Jesus
had failed, or if the other disciples had got disillusioned, they could have gone back to
their old trades. Simon Peter, James and John could have gone back to being
fishermen. Simon the Zealot could have gone back to being a freedom fighter and so
on. But not Matthew. He deserted his job working for the authorities. He got up there
and then and just walked away from it and there is, of course, no way they would ever
have taken him back. He was too irresponsible! He was not to be trusted! He had no
loyalty to the company! Such was Matthew’s absolute commitment to Christ. He was
so radical, he was so unswerving in his desire to follow Jesus, that he was prepared to
sacrifice all the security, all the wealth, all the prosperous living that he had ever
known. He was prepared to throw caution to the wind and say, ‘OK Jesus, I don’t
know what it entails, I don’t know where I am going – but I will follow you.”
Matthew Discipleship demands that degree of sacrifice, that degree of
uncompromising commitment to Christ. It involves taking Jesus at his word: “If you
call me – I will go wherever you want.” Matthew burnt his bridges in following Christ
and that is the call of Christ on our lives too.

2. Matthew Discipleship is uncompromising in its commitment to mission

Verse 10 is so powerful: “While Jesus was having a meal in Matthew’s house, many
tax collectors and other outcasts came and joined Jesus and his disciples at the table”.
Brilliant! Matthew had only been a Christian for a couple of hours and already he is
introducing his friends and workmates to Jesus!! A big feast is not something that you
would organise every day of the week but Matthew was so excited at having been
called by Jesus, he was so thrilled at the new lifestyle he had gained, that he wanted to
celebrate it and share it with everyone he know. That’s the joy that Matthew had in
his heart and he was determined for his friends and family to meet Jesus.
Like Matthew, we too are called to a life of mission. We don’t need to be
experienced as evangelists, we don’t need teaching in methods and plans and
strategies, we don’t need to know the Bible inside out or have the answer to every
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question that will be thrown at us. Matthew had only been a Christian a few hours and
he was already doing it! It is not your knowledge of the Bible that will bring others to
faith. It is your enthusiasm for Jesus, the new life you’ve found. And that is
something really worth sharing!

3. Matthew Discipleship is uncompromising in its challenge to authority

There is a real irony in the fact that when true religious fervour and zeal awakens a
congregation, when a church comes alive through a time of renewal, or when an
individual is touched by the power of the Holy Spirit, more often than not, the major
source of opposition to that renewal is the wider institution of the church itself. We
see it time and time again. Take the Methodists for example. The Wesley brothers,
John and Charles, who started Methodism, were Church of England vicars but the
Church of England authorities couldn’t cope with their new of doing things and
ostracised them. There are many more examples from history we could look at.
Whenever and wherever we see God at work the same pattern occurs: the religious
institution is unable – or too slow – to cope with the change.
And that’s exactly what happens in this story about Matthew here. Here is the tax
collector throwing a party and all the sinners and outcasts and undesirables get an
invite and Jesus and his disciples sit down and eat with them. The Pharisees poke their
heads through the windows to see what all the noise is about and rather than rejoice in
what they see, they moan and groan to the disciples: “Why does your teacher eat with
such people?” The Spirit of God is at work and the traditional religious leaders can’t
cope with it because this new spirit of freedom is beyond their control.
But Matthew doesn’t bow to the pressure; he doesn’t feel ashamed of what he is
doing, he doesn’t bow to the pressure of the institution and quietly ask all the outcasts
to leave his house. He knows that what he is doing may not be orthodox but it’s
ordained by God. He is prepared to put up with being misunderstood if it means the
Kingdom of God is being preached.
The cutting edge of being a disciple, following in the shoes of Matthew, the point
of pain for most of us, is the misunderstanding we are subjected to not by outsiders,
not by non-Christians but from the people who really, really should know better: the
Church itself. But we are called to be uncompromising in our challenge to authority,
to do whatever it is that God is asking us to do, not what the tradition dictates that we
ought to do…

4. Matthew Discipleship is uncompromising in its personal challenge

The Pharisees had criticised the disciples for eating with outcasts and Jesus speaks up
on their behalf in verse 12: “People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those
who are sick. I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.” Implicit in that
statement for Matthew was to accept that he too was a sick man in need of a doctor;
that there was nothing respectable about him but that he too was a sinner and an
outcast.
And this is the most fundamental aspect of Matthew Discipleship: that we must
never, ever forget that we too are sick outcasts, sinners loved by God. The moment we
forget this, we become like the Pharisees. If we lose touch with that base, then we get
arrogant and proud and believe that we are somehow worthy of respect. We may
believe in the badge we wear, or the dog-collar we wear or the robes we wear, or the
position we hold in the church or the ministry we perform;. We may begin to take
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ourselves so seriously that we really believe we are God’s gift to the Church…
Nothing is further from the truth! As Jesus said, “Those who want to be first shall be
last in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew Discipleship is born out of a commitment
to self-realisation; an utter dependency on the grace of God. an honest self-appraisal
of oneself as an unworthy sinner who, ironically, is loved and treasured by God,
nonetheless.
On this day when we mark the discipleship of Matthew, we are all called to rise to
the challenge of discipleship; renewing our commitment to Christ, renewing our
commitment to mission, considering what it means to challenge authorities and
considering a challenge to our own sense of Self. It may mean a radical change in
lifestyle, a commitment in terms of time, money and energy, the development of a
real heart of compassion and a profound commitment to mission and evangelism. But
the reward, as Matthew found out, was a lifetime enjoying a relationship with Jesus
Christ.
And what more could any one of us desire?