Today’s passage for Matthew provides useful material for reflection upon the nature of ministry of Jesus and of the church as well. Jesus calls Matthew to follow Him, yet Jesus follows Matthew and the sinners to the table. So, it should be with the ministry of the Church. The needs of others should draw the church beyond its comfortable boundaries. Like Jesus, the church needs to cultivate the art of following.
Jesus calls Matthew to follow Him. As it turns out, He accepts hospitality in Matthew’s house. There He shares a table with His typical crowd, toll collectors and sinners. Last Sunday we reflected on how Jesus often receives credit for touching a woman with a bloody discharge and for touching a dead girl’s body. However, Jesus does not initiate the contact. By touching ritual impurity, He practices the art of following. The girl’s father is the one to suggest that Jesus “lay your hand upon her.” Jesus eventually does touch the girl, restoring her to life, but not before the hemorrhaging woman sneaks up and touches Jesus first. She, not He, crosses the boundary between purity and impurity. She, not Jesus, proves that purity is more contagious than impurity.
Sometimes our Catholic church needs to learn the art of following, as Jesus does. As you know better than me, during the Civil Rights Movement some people acted as heroes, risking social standing, employment, even bodily safety for the cause of justice. Yet most of them did not seek out the cause of racial justice; rather, it found them. A particular incident opened their eyes to the truth, or a specific crisis called them to action. Then, they moved forth. As in many of the healing stories of Jesus, they were heroes not because they sought out the opportunity for healing but because they responded to the call set before them. Today, are we, disciples of Jesus Christ, responding to the call set before us?
Perhaps, our Church suffers from a misguided hero complex. Sometimes, we wonder how to draw people in rather than how to engage them where they are. As Pope Francis has always encouraged us, rather than wait for people to come in, perhaps we should follow our neighbors out into the world, responding to their needs as they emerge. Rather than complain that families attend summer soccer games, we might offer ministries on parenting and sports. Rather than puzzle over why the multi-ethnic community in our neighborhood does not visit us, we might explore how to participate in the events they have.
As the Church, we are called to continue Jesus’ mission. We are called to cultivate the art of following.