Jesus calls individuals. In faith, they respond by following. This is the pattern of the Christian life: Speaking and hearing, listening, and following. We listen first as individuals, then as a community.
From Advent to the Ascension, the Church Year focuses on the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. During the season of Pentecost, our attention shifts to His ongoing work in and through the Church by the power of His Spirit. It is the season of discipleship, which may be why the Gospel readings for this and the next three weeks draw attention to the life of Jesus’ followers. As you look ahead to these next four Sundays, I suggest a four-part series of sermons to help your hearers explore their own lives as disciples; both as individuals and as a community. Here is a possible plan for sermon themes:
- June 11 – The Call to Discipleship (Matthew 9:9-13)
- June 18 – A Community of Disciples (Matthew 9:35-10:8)
- June 25 – What Disciples Expect (Matthew 10:5a, 21-33)
- July 2 – Discipleship for Losers (Matthew 10:34-42)
The Call to Discipleship
The first sermon text in this series focuses on a single call and a single disciple. I recommend devoting the sermon entirely to Matthew and how our experience with Jesus relates to his. Such a sermon would not only introduce the concept of discipleship, it would also prepare the hearers for an entire summer of reading Matthew’s version of the Gospel.
Unlike some of the other disciples, the New Testament says very little about Matthew as an individual. Except for this text (and its parallels), he is mentioned only in lists of disciples (Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15, and Acts 1:13). We know he was a tax collector, and he also went by Levi (Mark 2:14, Luke 5:27). That is it.
There are three things, however, we learn from this text which can help your hearers understand their own life of discipleship.
- It started with the call.
“Follow me,” Jesus said to him. Without backdrop or setting or details about Matthew’s family or history, the text tells us Jesus simply saw him and called out to him. Matthew’s response was equally bare bones. Without commentary or elaboration or details about what it meant for his professional or social life, the text records: “And he rose and followed Him.”
As you consider this call, you might spend some time with Caravaggio’s famous painting called The Calling of St. Matthew. The scene pictures Matthew together with his fellow money-counters. Jesus stands with eyes fixed on the future evangelist. His finger points toward Matthew to signal him out as one who has been specifically chosen. Matthew is not so sure. He points to himself with one hand as if to ask Jesus if he has got the right guy. As you look closer, you can see Matthew’s other hand is still on the money. This is the moment of separation. He can only serve one master, which makes you wonder if Matthew was thinking about himself when he recorded Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:24. We know how it happened because of the text, but Caravaggio reminds us that the life of discipleship sometimes entails separation from something which was formerly very important to us.
We know how it happened because of the text, but Caravaggio reminds us that the life of discipleship sometimes entails separation from something which was formerly very important to us.
For your hearers, this may mean some separation is in order. Jesus calls us directly and specifically. He specifically chooses you and your hearers. It is your joy and privilege to announce this directly to your people. But Jesus’ call also involves separation, sometimes from something formerly (or even presently) important to us.
- It continued with dinner.
Matthew does not give much detail about how came it about, but shortly after the call, Jesus came to his house for dinner (see Luke 5:29). It was not a small party. In addition to Jesus and Matthew, “many tax collectors and sinners” joined them. The disciples were also there, and some Pharisees were close enough to get a glimpse.
The attendance at this dinner is worth noting. While Jesus’ call separated Matthew from his vocation as a tax collector, Jesus did not separate him from his co-workers. Whoever invited them to dinner, Matthew prepared for them, welcomed them, and served them. This is no minor matter. To follow Jesus does not mean abandoning everyone in our lives. Instead, it involves bringing them into an encounter with Jesus, too. Matthew writes nothing about how his fellow tax-collectors responded to Jesus. But based on what Jesus says in verses 12-13, it is not hard to imagine that the One who called Matthew had words for them, too.
- His testimony mattered most.
After this brief reading, we know nothing about Matthew. This does not diminish the significance of his testimony. In fact, it serves to highlight the idea that, when it is all said and done, a disciple’s testimony about Jesus is what matters most.
Matthew’s testimony was oral before it was written down. Chrysostom tells us: “Matthew wrote when the believers in Christ from the Jews had approached him and asked that he would send them in writing what he had taught them by word of mouth, that it might be preserved.” This suggests our oral testimony (at times very informal, perhaps even around a dinner table) is sufficient to create and strengthen faith among those who hear. That is what it means for disciples to live (and love) by word of mouth. This is worth considering for any disciple of Jesus who wants to make a positive impact on the world or have an effect on the people God puts into our lives.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 9:9-13.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 9:9-13.