Thursday, September 21, 2023



Today (21 September) the Church remembers Matthew, the tax collector who became a follower of Jesus, and for whom the Gospel According to Matthew is named. The Gospel reading for Holy Communion is Matthew 9:9-13, in which Matthew himself enters the story:

‘As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax-collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard this, 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, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’

There are two treasures hidden in this account. The first concerns the tax collectors and the Pharisees; the second concerns Jesus.

A low-ranking tax collector such as Matthew was told how much revenue they had to secure, with any surplus being what they themselves lived off. Tax collectors were notoriously genius at making up taxes to increase their margin.

“Good morning, sir. I’m going to have to ask you to unload your cart, so we can inspect and weigh your goods and calculate the duty. While my colleague sees to that, I just need to go through some paperwork with you. You are travelling by road, so there’s road tax, obviously; those potholes don’t fill themselves. And this road passes over a bridge, so that’s bridge tax. Cart tax. Your cart today has four wheels, so that’s wheel tax, times four. And I couldn’t help but notice that your cart has two axles.”

“Well, yes. That’s how the wheels turn.”

“Very good, sir. I can see that you paid attention in school. Axle tax, times two.”

“But surely axles should be covered by the wheel tax?”

“Oh no, sir. A wheel is a sort of a disc, on a vertical axis, whereas an axle is a sort of a shaft or pole, on a horizontal axis. They’re two quite different things.”

It isn’t hard to imagine why tax collectors were unpopular. The Pharisees despised them, considered them beyond the pale. But Jesus says to the Pharisees, “You think that you are entirely different from the tax collectors, but you are exactly the same. Just as they crush people under their taxation rules, so you crush people under the rules you multiply for determining who is acceptable and who is not. You need to look again at what it is that God asks of us: compassion towards others, not death by a thousand cuts.”

So, the Pharisees and the tax collectors aren’t so different after all. But Jesus comes to both, to heal all who recognise their own sickness. He calls Matthew to follow him, and Matthew gets up. The word Matthew uses to describe how he responds is the same word Mark uses in his Gospel to describe Jesus risen from the dead. In this moment—that points to that moment—Matthew comes alive. And Jesus leads him to the table in the toll house to eat with other tax collectors. My English translation says that they were sitting, but that is not accurate: in their culture, they ate reclined, or lying down. Jesus is lying down and the tax collectors, and the disciples, are lying down. And it is the same word that Matthew uses when he recounts the angel addressing the disciples, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, at the tomb on the morning Jesus rose from the dead: ‘He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.’ (Matthew 28:6). In other words, Jesus’ action in Matthew 9 points to the end of the story, to the tomb, the house of death and resurrection. Jesus calls the tax collectors (and the Pharisees who are the same as them, though they do not recognise it) to die with him and rise with him. To lose the life they are trying to build over and against others and instead to discover the life God longs for them to know, a life characterised by compassion that embraces the outcast.

Today is the Feast of St Matthew. Today he invites us to join him with Jesus at the table. To recline, and get up, and to follow Jesus to invite others to recline and get up. Today may all that separates you from God and neighbour be put to death. May you know the reconciliation that is already yours, in Christ, and, through him, be empowered to extend that wealth to others.


Thursday, September 14, 2023

Holy Cross


We do not like to be humbled. But being humble is the very character of God, of the god who chooses to be human, the human god Jesus who is revealed to the world on the cross, in public humiliation. Only those who are humble are able to participate in the life of God, a life that defies death. This is freedom.

The ancient Greeks saw the seemingly insatiable appetite of pride as hubris, a transgression against the gods, that brought upon mortals nemesis, the punishment of the gods. But to be humbled, delivered from our appetite for recognition, for being fĂȘted by all, is not a punishment. It is the gift of God.

Jesus did not die on the cross to satisfy the wounded pride of God, but to (more than) satisfy the wounding pride of people, and of the satan, the prideful angel who is unable to embrace humility, who rebels against the humble God. And to all those who have been wounded by pride, their own or that of other people, the risen Jesus holds out life, healing, freedom, joy. Says, walk with me. Walk humbly with your God.

May your day, and mine, be unremarkable.


Sunday, September 03, 2023

Take off your shoes


There is a story in the Bible about a man called Moses. You can read it in the book of Exodus. One day, this Moses is going about his life when he is intrigued to notice a bush that is burning, but not consumed by the flames.

Now, Moses is just going about his life, but it isn’t the life he ever imagined would be his. He has experienced childhood trauma and bereavement in adulthood; been rejected by his adoptive family and his family-of-origin. He has built a new life in a far off, out-of-the-way place. In some regards, we would say that his life has become smaller. From another perspective, we would say his life has grown, to accommodate the grief within it, to make space for living despite it. This is what surviving bereavement, of any form, does within us. We are changed, a change that cannot be undone; and yet, despite all, we are not consumed.

Moses stops and turns aside to take a closer look. And God, noticing that Moses has noticed, called out to him from within the bush, ‘Moses, Moses.’ And Moses replied, ‘Here I am.’

We note that God knows us by name, and that the place of encountering God is our life, right where we are, right here where we find ourselves, the life we have, if we are open to such an encounter. Not some other circumstance, the life we had imagined for ourselves, that we had either never found or perhaps had known but had subsequently lost. Some unreal life we grasp at that has no substance. No, but rather, Here I am.

The first thing God wants Moses to know—other than that he is known—is that he must take off his sandals, for he is standing on holy ground. What is this strange command, if not the revelation that God does not want anything to come between us and our standing on holy ground, not even shoe leather? And if Moses can learn how to stand on holy ground here, in this location, he can learn how to stand on holy ground anywhere. For everywhere is holy ground, created by God and giving rise to reverence whenever that is recognised.

Moses asks this God, what is your name? And God responds with what is often translated into English as I AM WHO I AM, but can also be rendered LET THERE BE, AND THERE WAS, as in, ‘And God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light.’ In other words, this God is the one in whom is both existence and purpose. The one who comes to liberate his people into life and into the purpose of love—which, though we resist the thought with every fibre of our being, is sufficient purpose to order the world rightly.

This morning when the church in our neighbourhood were gathered together out of our lives—which for many of us are not the lives we imagined, for some of us include the pain of watching marriages approach their slow parting by death, or some other trauma or bereavement—I invited people to take off their shoes and walk about on the lawn outside, right there in the middle of the service of Holy Communion (Eucharist, Mass). It was a joy to see several take up the invitation.

Photographs: two different depictions of the burning bush in stained glass created by Leonard Evetts for St Nicholas Church; and also, a photograph of my bare feet on the vicarage lawn, after the service.