Wednesday, February 14, 2007

“Follow Me”

The seventh commandment forbids stealing other people’s possessions. Tax collectors, like Matthew, were notorious for stealing, extortion, swindling, and embezzlement. They overcharged people for taxes and kept the surplus for themselves. They were hated as an embodiment of evil, alongside prostitutes. Yet Jesus called Matthew to be one of His disciples.

In the picture you see Jesus beckoning Matthew away from his self-centered, crooked business, saying, “Follow Me” (Matthew 9:9). God graciously calls those who live by stealing. He calls them to leave their dishonest ways behind, and to follow Him.

Some people objected to the favor Jesus showed Matthew. Jesus told them: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick… For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9:12-13).

Christ never took anything that didn’t belong to him. Yet He was crucified alongside thieves (Luke 23:33). He even promised eternal life to the dying thief hanging beside him, the one who asked for forgiveness (Luke 23:43). God’s forgiveness even covers people who are paying for their crimes in prison, people who are despised because of their deeds, and people who drag a guilty conscience around with them.

Jesus calls sinners to repent of their sins and follow Him, just as He called Matthew. And His forgiveness assures them of eternal life, as in the case of the dying thief (Luke 23:43). No matter what anyone thinks of you - even if they know about shameful deeds you have done - even if they believe that you are beyond the reach of God's mercy - you can trust in Jesus' forgiveness. "Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns?" (Romans 8:33-34).

Even if your conscience, or the devil himself, tells you otherwise, God has pledged His forgiveness to you. Jesus says: "Take courage, My son, your sins are forgiven" (Matthew 9:2). "The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly" (John 10:10).

God promises to "confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Corinthians 1:8-9). He promises blessing after blessing: total forgiveness, stronger faith, and eternal life at the end. And He promises it all to the undeserving, the despised, the outcast, saying even to Matthew and to you: "Follow Me" (Matthew 9:9).

IMAGE: Hemessen, Jan Sanders van (c.1504-c.1566). Saint Matthew called to join the apostles. c. 1548-49. Oil on oakwood. 114 x 137 cm. Location: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria. Photo Credit: Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY

No comments: