Sermon Notes on Saint Matthew, by Father Basil William Maturin

oil on canvas painting of Saint Mark the Evangelist; by Godfried Maes between 1664 and 1700; currently Kerk O.L.Vrouw van Goede Hoop, Vilvoorde, Belgium; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsOne great advantage of the study of Holy Scripture is that it leads us through all secondary courses directly to God. The tone of thought and study of our day tends to lead the mind to rest with such interest in the workings of the machinery of nature that we need to be brought back again to first principles, and to be reminded that because we have discovered some of the great ways in which nature works out her ends, we are in no sense any nearer to a final explanation. In Holy Scripture we see God.

It is the same in individual life. The Gospel shows us the presence of Christ, and it draws for us the picture of different men and women living more or less careless or sinful lives, and then we see a change; the demoniac becomes clothed and in his right mind, the poor woman that was a sinner becomes the type of modesty and retirement, the persecutor becomes a disciple, the dying thief begins to pray. These are the sort of things we see in life today and the Gospel gives us the meaning. It is Christ entering into these lives. The influence of a person acting upon one here, one there. And this is what the Gospel describes as Christianity. This is at once its weakness and its strength. This it is which makes the kind of proofs men ask for impossible, and this it is which makes the proofs which individuals have the strongest in the world. Prove for me the truth of Christianity as you can prove any other scientific fact and I will believe. And to that I answer: thank God I can’t, for if I could two things would follow. Every man with a clear head would have no loophole for escape – to be a believer would be a mere matter of cleverness, and besides, it would rob Christianity of its life. You can’t scientifically prove the love of a person.

In the Gospels we find ourselves in a world of deeper interest the moral world of human life, and behind and acting upon it we find a person who claims to be the God of the Old Testament clad in the form of man, and we see lives acted upon and changed by contact with Him. In proportion as He enters into their lives He changes them. He makes the fisherman the great mystic, the fallen woman a model of chastity, &c. This is Christianity, not a mere organisation; the Church is spread throughout the world. There are good and bad Christians; they are good in proportion as Christ enters their life, and as He does men find an objective representation of conscience. I open the Gospel and there I find conscience speaking.

Thus the weakness and strength of the Gospel, the power of a holy life acting upon men, the most convincing proof to those who know Him. No one can shake your faith in your friend.

So when Christ drew men to Him He didn’t merely present them with a creed and say: believe that and you re saved, refuse and you re lost. He drew them to Himself, and as they believed in Him He taught them. They received truth from the lips of one they loved and were led on.

That coming of Christ was different to different people and for different ends.

The great event by the gate of Damascus in the life of Saul of Tarsus was a crash, a lightning flash, a stunning blow, three days of fearful anguish, then a life wholly overturned. Saul professed that he saw Christ on the Throne of God – that was the other side.

We see Saul in his Jewish narrow zeal against Christians, then we see all this changed, the whole character of the man subdued, softened. He is lost sight of for a year or two, when we see him again we scarcely recognise him. What does it mean? He tells us. How could that influence enter and possess such a life? Not by a gradual process of conviction, but like a flash with a crash, a stunning blow.

Different from this was the coming of Christ into the life of Saint John the Evangelist. With him there was no such crisis; he passed under an influence that led him on strongly and gently to the highest. He drank from His lips words of power and wisdom that satisfied his soul. How he recalls it all sixty or seventy years after! The day, the very hour.

Then take the change in the life of the Magdalene. She knew not who He was, she only felt that He was the type of what was purest and kindest in man, and as she poured out her soul at His feet peace wrapped her round as the morning light encircles the cold bleak mountain, and she was led on to that of which she never dreamed. In all these cases, so different one from another, there was opened a door to another life.

But amidst all these, none more beautiful and instructive than the saint of your Festival. Who could raise up a sordid money seeker? There are passions that degrade and weaken while they still leave much that is noble; a drunkard may have a tender heart, or a sensualist has moments of agonising remorse, but the love of money hardens and narrows the whole nature and saps the springs of all natural affection. How can a man who has brought upon himself the scorn of his fellow-countrymen and the contempt of his own people and hired himself into the service of their enemies for the sake of money – how can such a man be touched or reached? Doubt less there were in that life times of longing after better things and bitter revolt against his fate, but habit is strong and under its grasp the will becomes less and less capable of asserting its freedom. How could he be raised? Beneath all the ruins there lay a dormant power of faith, devotion, sacrifice. But who could see, who could tell of its existence?

It was not any conscious influence of religion that raised and rescued him. There was another man in that town who was the very antithesis of himself, One who, instead of using others as a hunting ground for His own greed, was pouring out His very life, taxing nerve and heart beyond the power of human endurance to give. Was there ever greater contrast? And these two met, Jesus of Nazareth and Matthew, and He said to him: get up and leave that sordid life and I will make a man of you. You see the appeal is not to his religious faith He doesn’t touch upon religion, He will not condescend to enter upon the question of His claims or who He was, that would be but waste of time, the appeal is directly to conscience: give up your dishonest money-ruled life and follow Me who am at least unselfish. He threw open the door – nay, He was Himself the door into regions of holiness, etc., but all began here at one great moral act.

It was the same with Pilate. ‘Art thou King of the Jews?’ ‘What is truth?’ To all this Christ does not answer. He says to Pilate: You are a Judge, you know what justice is. Be just and if I am innocent don t condemn me. Through that door Christ would lead Pilate on to all the lights and graces of the Christian life.

Brethren, it is so almost always. Behind some strong call to do the right thing or give up something wrong stands Christ, religion, Christian hope, infinite progress. That is the door, pass through and fair visions of green pastures and cool streams open, but you see nothing till you have passed through.

He opens the door to that worldly person amusing herself with questions of controversy and thinking she can take no step till on some subtle question of faith her mind is cleared. He will not clear it; that is not the side upon which He comes to you. He comes to you and says: give up that lazy idle life, step out into a life of active purpose and then I will clear up all these things.

See Matthew; he arises, leaves all. Where is he going? Who has he surrendered to? Here was a man whose work in life was based on selfishness, yet he had talent, the power of an absolute consecration to God and to men. How was he to be drawn upwards, what could break the spell and chain of the present? It was not primarily through religious belief, nor through a gaining of the knowledge of theological truth. No, it was primarily through a moral act, a breaking with what was wrong, a following One who said no word to him about religion but who appealed to him through His own goodness. It seemed to say to him: get up and leave all this sordid money grabbing, break away from that and I will make a man of you. He followed. Brethren, you see a man who led him to do one act, but behind that act lay all possibilities of infinite progress. He followed and he was taught to be a Christian, an Apostle, an Evangelist, but it needed a blind act of surrender. Some scribe or pharisee meets him and says: do you know what you are doing? Do you know who this Jesus is? Do you know that there are various opinions as to His Person and claims? And Matthew answers: no, I only know He has bid me leave what all that’s best in me says I ought to leave, I shall follow Him this step and see. And he does and he is led on more and more of wonder and delight up into the clear air of the highlands, where all is bracing and pure. He speaks with Him, prays with Him, lives with Him, till he finds at last that this stranger who led him from his money table passes up into the very heavens and sits on the right hand of God and lifts him to sit with Him in heavenly places.

Every age has its difficulties, its tone of thought, its spirit; there have been times of midnight darkness, this is a time of light, so brilliant that it seems as if we need none other. How is the soul to keep hold and to be firm amidst all change? By turning to revelation – there it sees two things: life as it’s lived, and behind all God.