Sacred and Life-giving Words – Br. David Vryhof

Feast of St Matthew

Proverbs 3:1-6, II Timothy 3:14-17, Matthew 9:9-13.

We are remembering with gratitude today the evangelist Matthew, author of the first of the four gospels contained in the New Testament.  Matthew’s gospel was written to a Jewish-Christian audience and presents Jesus as the promised Messiah and King who has come to establish the reign of God upon earth.  Matthew quotes the Old Testament (or Hebrew scriptures) extensively, arguing that Jesus is the fulfillment of the ancient prophesies that spoke of the coming of the Messiah.

Matthew opens his gospel with this proposition that Jesus is the Messiah, noting the circumstances that surrounded his birth, and explaining their significance.  Then follow five sections, each containing narratives describing the words and actions of Jesus, and a block of Jesus’ teaching.  The teachings elaborate what the kingdom of heaven is, and describe how those who belong to that kingdom are to conduct themselves in the world.  The five sections bring to mind the five books of the law – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy —  all of which have been traditionally ascribed to Moses.  The comparison is intentional: Moses was the great teacher of the Old Testament and of Israel;  Jesus is the great teacher of the New Testament and of Christianity.

The final section of Matthew’s gospel builds to the climax of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and tells of the commissioning of his disciples to carry on his mission.

Matthew himself is described in the gospel as a tax collecter, who left his home and business to become one of Jesus’ closest disciples, as we heard in today’s gospel lesson.

We give thanks today not only for Matthew’s example, but also for the teachings of Jesus which he recorded and passed on to us.  These teachings are the structure that supports our faith, and the lessons appointed for today encourage us to cherish them and adhere to them.  “My child,” writes the author of Proverbs, “do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they will give you… bind them round your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.  So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and of people.”

These words, these sacred writings “are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus,” Paul reminds Timothy, and therefore you should “continue in what you have learned and firmly believed…”  These words, these sacred texts, he goes on to say, are “useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”

How do we cherish and learn to adhere to the teachings of Jesus that Matthew has passed on to us?

First, by firmly planting them in the good soil of our hearts and minds.  “Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” the sacred words of Scripture, the Prayer Book reminds us (BCP, p. 236).  “Write them on the tablet of your heart,” Proverbs tells us.  There are many ways in which we do this: by memorizing passages of scripture, by reading and meditating daily on the sacred text, by speaking or singing them to ourselves and others, by posting them in places where they can remind us of their truth.  The words of God are food for the soul;  they nourish and strengthen us for the struggles we will face in life.  Don’t neglect them; without food our souls weaken and die.

Those who live by these words are like great trees with strong trunks, able to withstand the battering of the winds and the changing of the seasons.  They are like houses built solidly on firm ground rather than on shifting sands.  These words offer us truth and wisdom that satisfy our hunger and quench our thirst.  They instruct and guide us; they fortify us on the way; they remind us that we are known and loved by the One who has created and redeemed us.

Learn to love the sacred texts that have been passed on to us.  Absorb their wisdom, heed their counsel, cherish and love them by planting them in the fertile soil of your heart.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.  In all your ways acknowledge [God], and [God] will make straight your paths.”

What words do you carry in your heart and mind?

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