There’s a story in my family, about my grandmother, a story certainly embellished and possibly apocryphal, that my grandmother, in 1989 and not a young woman, met Prince in a supermarket in Edina, Minnesota. My grandmother was the type of person who would meet a rock star in a supermarket in Edina, Minnesota, so that part is probably true. If I have the story straight, she described him as a nice young man who helped her with her bags; no word on if he was wearing a blouse or if said blouse was purple. The story goes that he invited my grandmother to the opening night of his new place, Glam Slam; no word that I can remember if my grandmother actually went.
Now imagine for a moment my grandmother, five-feet tall and proper, a retired emergency room nurse, at the opening night of Glam Slam. A little strange, right? Now imagine Jesus being there, in the flesh, with his disciples, most of which were fisherman from the backwoods.
This is the story we get from today’s Gospel reading from St. Matthew. You see, this is the feast of St. Matthew, the day we celebrate his calling by Jesus to be one of the twelve original disciples, one of the big twelve, and we also celebrate the fact that Matthew managed to write down what happened to him.
Right before Matthew met Jesus, Jesus had been on a bit of a tear; Jesus healed many including the Centurion’s servant, the same servant that told Jesus “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof, but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.” Jesus cast out demons, He controlled the weather when there was a wicked storm on the Sea of Galilee, He forgave and healed a paralyzed man.
And then He met Matthew. Matthew was modest about his calling, he tells us that Jesus “saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And Matthew had the good sense to rise and follow Him.
What happened next was the obvious next step when the Son of the living God makes you His new friend: Matthew threw a party. But imagine for a moment who would be friends with Matthew. Matthew was a tax collector; despised of his own people, an outcast but an outcast with means, and so his friends would reflect all that. Opportunistic, maybe; liked to party a bit too much. Classless and certainly not religious. Sinners, the Pharisees called them. If they came to the party they might even have wondered why Matthew was throwing a party for a traveling rabbi like Jesus, but hey, a party’s a party.
You can imagine how the Pharisees, who were a bit tightly-wound, would feel about all of that. They would have rather been my grandma at Glam Slam. My grandmother might have been able to handle Glam Slam, but the Pharisees were out of place, put-off, disoriented. “It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Jesus gets challenged for the company he keeps. “What are you even doing there?” the Pharisees ask.1 “Back off,” Jesus said (basically), “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.”
And so the doctor is in, so to speak. “Clearly, Jesus has come to bring gospel medicine (to use Barbara Brown Taylor’s phrase) to a sick world. But it is equally clear that the sickness Jesus aims to heal is spiritual. The main event for Jesus is spanning the chasm that had yawned open between God and humanity. People needed to know that God is love. People needed to know they were loved because they were loveable.”2 People needed to know, and still need to know, that no matter who you are, no matter who your friends may be, that even if you’re not comfortable around God, that God is not uncomfortable around you.
And so what does all this spiritual healing look like? It looks like what we’ve done and what we are about to do; it looks like baptism; it looks like the joy we find in having a spiritual family like this around us; it looks like remembering that it’s only in baptism that we begin to be as comfortable with God as He is with us. St. Matthew knew all this and was nice enough to write it down for us. May he pray for us, that we too might join the party.
1Scott Hoezee, This Week.