Look back through time for a moment. Squint. Do you see them—those people gathered around Jesus—the 12 and more—the disciples who followed him along Galilean roads, who listened to his teachings day in, day out—do you see them? There are the fishermen, yes, and with them Mary Magdalene. All we really know about Mary is that Jesus cast seven demons out of her, and so she followed him, and that’s enough, I guess. There also is Joanna, the wife of Herod’s business manager. Wouldn’t you love to know her story?
Ah, and there is Matthew the tax collector and, over there, Simon the Zealot. Linger over those two for a moment. Before following Jesus, Matthew had found a livelihood working with the Romans, while Simon was a member of the party that advocated rebellion against those same Romans. That the two of them should be there with Jesus is either miraculous or extremely awkward … or both.
I find myself thinking about Matthew and Simon, because, right now, my stomach hurts. No, I don’t have a bug of some sort. Mine is a Charlie Brown kind of stomachache—more an existential unease than a physical malady. Maybe it’s the result of too much presidential election news, or maybe it’s the racial tensions pulling at our communities, or maybe it’s my concern for the future of our denomination. I’m haunted by the sound of ripping seams.
So I wonder about Matthew and Simon. In the world they would have hated each other. As disciples, were they friends? Did they laugh and joke together, or did they awkwardly avoid eye contact? Whatever the case, they shared a life with Jesus, and they both served his kingdom. Maybe each wondered what the OTHER was doing there, but there they were nonetheless, together.
Whatever they felt about each other, neither of them could walk away. What they had found with Jesus was worth the awkwardness. I look at the two of them together there, and I see hope—not necessarily perfection or blissful peace or even friendship, but hope. In Christ, Matthew and Simon found the noun and verb of the Christian life—love. They shared an experience of Jesus’ love and grace that transformed them both, and that was a seam that they couldn’t tear apart even if they wanted to.
When Christians gather this Sunday in worship, here and around the world, we will bring with us all of our differences. It might even be that the person who sits next to you disagrees with a point of view that you think is absolutely undeniable, but when the music starts, you’ll both start singing, and when the Word is preached, it will be for both of you, and when the bread and cup are shared, you’ll both be invited. Is that a miracle in your eyes? Or is it just awkward? Here is what matters: Jesus loves you both and calls both of you to love. You’re stuck with each other. And that, I believe, is the hope of the world.
Not all tax collectors found Jesus, nor did every Zealot. Differences and ugliness didn’t go away. But Matthew and Simon found themselves together with Jesus, and they could never see life the same again. It was a beginning. It was the kingdom of God erupting. And it still happens when God, in Trinitarian glory, goes to work in people’s lives.
Bring it, Lord. Let your transforming love go wild among us. Amen.