Followed by the Lord of All

man walking on trail in green forest
Photo by Jennifer Latuperisa-Andresen on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

Dear Working Preacher,

Thank you for what you do to preach the gospel. Thank you for both receiving the free promise of God’s love in Jesus Christ. And thank you, in turn, for proclaiming that promise to a world that needs it so desperately … even though the world so often doesn’t know that it needs the gospel.

What a messy reading from Matthew

This week’s Gospel reading comprising two sections of Matthew 9 (verses 9-13 and 18-26). And in the two sections there are a mishmash of highlights or high points, each of which could merit a sermon or simply reverent attention.

  • Jesus calls Matthew—“sitting at the tax booth” and therefore he is assumed to be a tax collector. And Matthew follows.
  • Jesus sits and eats with sinner, causing the Pharisees to wonder why he does so.
  • Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”
  • Jesus adds, “Why don’t you study the passage in the Hosea where God says, ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice.’”
  • A synagogue leader pleads with Jesus for help, “My daughter has died.”
  • On the way to help, Jesus is interrupted by a woman who has been suffering from hemorrhages for 12 years. She is healed.
  • When Jesus arrives at the home of the synagogue leader, the mourners are mourning already.
  • They laugh at Jesus when he says, “She isn’t dead, but only sleeping.”
  • Jesus takes her by the hand and she rose.

There is so much here to untangle and try to get straightened out. Put another way, there is a great deal of material to play with here.

And this week I feel like playing with verbs.

The first verb

The first verb I want to play with is the word “sit.”

One thing rattling around in my brain are the three different words for “sit” in verses 9-10:

  • Matthew was “sitting at the tax booth.” (katheimenon)
  • Jesus “sat at dinner.” (anakeimenou)
  • Many tax collectors and sinners were “sitting with him.” (sunanekeinto)

Three different verbs are used, but they are related. And this makes me wonder, “Where am I given a seat at the table?” And also, “Whom am I inviting and offering a seat at the table?”

One of my mentors offered me the following lesson in leadership: “At this time, leadership is about convening the conversation.” And a colleague that I work with now says, “Leadership is listening, and listening, and listening. And then, at the right time, asking the right question.”

Together, these two people have taught me that a leader listens, then convenes both the right conversation and also invites the right people to the table.

I know that there were times in my life when I was not invited to the table, even though I had something to offer. But more often, I have been invited to the table, even when I didn’t think that I had anything to offer. (Maybe I was just there to listen and learn.) And as a leader, I know that many times I did not get the right people to the table. And even when I did, I didn’t always ask the right question.

Jesus says that the gospel invites the right people—those who know they are sick and that they need a physician. That they need God, in other words.

And Jesus offers this weighty topic for our table discussions: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

I won’t make the glib move to the communion table, where Christ is present and offering us a place at his table. That would be kind of a cheesy cop out. (Although it does have the merit of being true.)

The second verb

The second verb I want to play with is “follow.” As in, first Jesus calls a tax collector, “‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.”

Then, when a synagogue leader pleads with Jesus to come help his dead or dying daughter, and “Jesus got up and followed him.”

So there you get the dynamics of the gospel at work. The Lord of All comes to serve. The Son of God of all, who calls us all to follow him, in turn follows a grieving and hurting father in order to offer comfort and new life.

(By the way, in the next story in Matthew 9:27-31, two blind men follow Jesus. Kind of interesting.)

It is awfully comforting to know that Jesus not only calls us to follow him, but also promises to follow us into our darkest valleys. Where God’s goodness and mercy not only follow us, but pursue us.

That’s a promise worth clinging to.

Thanks for preaching the promise, Working Preacher. And thanks for clinging to that promise … just like the little girl clung to Jesus’ hand as she rose.

Rolf Jacobson