Friday, 7 July 2017

Week 13, Friday, Year 1

Readings: Genesis 23:1-4, 19; 24:1-8, 62-67; Psalm 106; Matthew 9:9-13

Abraham's faith has been tested and tried through dark nights, not least in that extraordinary night of the spirit which was the sacrifice of Isaac. Having come through that he could come through anything, his union with God's will complete, his fidelity and trust now untouchable. He is happy for his wife to be buried in the land of Canaan and buys a plot there for that purpose but insists that his son Isaac, the child of the promise, must marry a woman from his own land and from his own people, the ones he had left to follow the call of the Lord. On no account is Isaac to return there for Abraham has complete trust that God will see to it that a woman from his own place will agree to marry Isaac.

And so it happens, Isaac and Rebekah see each other, and love each other, and he is comforted for the death of his mother. It is one of the few occasions in the Bible where we are actually told that one human being loves another: Isaac loved Rebekah.

The gospel reading is the call of Matthew from the gospel of Matthew. We are not told that Jesus looked at him and loved him, as Mark tells us Jesus did in relation to the rich young man, but we are told that Jesus saw Matthew. It is in such seeing, such noticing of others, that friendships and relationships begin. It is in such seeing and noticing of others that the earliest understanding of grace is to be found: finding favour in the sight of someone, being found attractive, of interest, deserving attention. The relationship that begins here is the following of Christ on the part of Matthew. Pope Francis chose as his motto a phrase from the commentary of Bede the Venerable on this passage of the gospel. The phrase is miserando et eligendo: the Lord has mercy on Matthew and calls him.

The phrase illuminates Jesus' comments to the Pharisees who criticise him for eating with tax collectors and sinners. These people are seen by Jesus, all of them, sinners and Pharisees alike, and he knows what is in them. His mercy towards sinners is not just to rectify their errors but to make them to be disciples. It is not just a grace that heals but a grace that elevates, promotes to a new and higher dignity. At least this is what happens in the case of Matthew as it had happened in the case of Abraham. Seen by the Lord, called to follow Him, the response must be free and faithful. As is the response of Rebekah to Isaac and his to her, a response in love that binds people to each other, equips them for the dark nights yet to come, and begins the work of establishing faithfulness between them.

To be with Jesus is to receive such gifts just as Abraham travelling with the Lord received comparable gifts. We do not need to worry about our point of departure, the condition in which we come before the Lord. He has come to call sinners, a call that inserts them in his mission of mercy. There is no price to be paid apart from being with Jesus and allowing him to work his healing in us. In calling us to himself he calls us back to ourselves, and beyond ourselves, to a greatness and an adventure we would not have considered for ourselves.

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