Pulling Strings – Br. James Koester

Amos 8: 4 – 6, 9 – 12; Psalm 119: 1 – 8; Matthew 9: 9 – 13

There is a saying that I am fond of quoting. You have no doubt heard me, as I use it in any number of different contexts. It goes, if you pull a string, you’ll find that the universe is attached. To be fair, it is a misquote of something the naturalist and conservationist John Muir[1] said: when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.[2]

I feel this way a lot of the time. I especially feel it when I read Scripture, and today is no different.

On the surface we have the story of the calling of Matthew to be a disciple of Jesus. In many ways, it’s quite simple. Jesus calls. Matthew follows. End of story. But nothing in Scripture is that simple. This story is not just about the call of Matthew to be a follower of Jesus. It is a story about how God’s reign of mercy, justice, and peace breaks in upon us in unexpected ways.

Matthew, as we know, was not a good boy. He may have been a good ole boy, but he was certainly not a good boy. He was a collaborator with the oppressive imperial Roman occupation. He was on the side of the bad guys and represented everything that was wrong and evil during the dark days of the Roman occupation of Palestine. Yet it was to this man that Jesus said, follow me, and, amazingly, he got up and followed him.[3] Luke tells us that Matthew got up, left everything, and followed [Jesus].[4]

We are reminded in our Rule of Life that [the] first challenge of community life is to accept whole-heartedly the authority of Christ to call whom he will.[5] Clearly that was a lesson needed by those who asked why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?[6] My hunch is, that’s a question even some of Jesus’ other followers were asking. Why on earth him, Lord? I’ll bet looking around at the other Brothers, it’s a question you ask yourself, every so often. I know I do.

And that is just the point. A community of likeminded, cookie cutter Brothers, would not be a sign of the reign of God who has called together from every family, language, people, and nation, a kingdom of priests to serve our God.[7]

The call of Matthew was not simply an invitation to one individual to become a follower of Jesus. It was a sign given by Jesus to the world, of what the reign of God actually looks like. It is a kingdom of sinners, outcasts, and misfits.

If we really want our community to be a sign of the reign of God, when we look for signs that a man has a vocation to our community, we should not consider their intelligence, or skills, we should see how they fit into the description sinner, outcast, misfit. On second thought, perhaps, we already do.

[1] John Muir (1838 – 1914) For a brief biography see https://vault.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/about/default.aspx downloaded 3July 2020

[2] https://vault.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/writings/misquotes.aspx downloaded 3 July 2020

[3] Matthew 9: 9

[4] Luke 5: 28

[5] SSJE, Rule of Life, The Challenges of Life in Community, chapter 5, page

[6] Matthew 9: 11

[7] Revelation 5: 9 – 10 as quoted in Canticle 18, Book of Common Prayer, 1979, page 95

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  1. Daniel on September 21, 2021 at 11:15

    Thank you Brother James…i am reminded of Cher’s song…..Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves.

  2. Annn Trousdale on September 21, 2021 at 08:58

    The two teachings from Matthew in the past week are so profound, in our understanding of Jesus, in our understanding of ourselves, and our understanding of one another. And our understanding of the reign of God. It is a gospel about conversion, isn’t it? Jesus’ own metanoia, and what it means for us. Maybe that’s why it was ascribed to Matthew the tax collector. The story o’ his life.

  3. Karen Wright on September 21, 2021 at 06:51

    thank you Brother James, truly this is something I need to hear.

  4. Alan Rollins on July 7, 2020 at 08:15

    I heartily thank you for this, Br. James; and as a hint of self-disclosure: touché!

    • Pat on July 11, 2020 at 00:58

      Made me smile. Thank you. I needed to smile today

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