This day, we celebrate the Feast Day of St. Matthew the Evangelist. As the tax collector among the Twelve, he is also the patron saint of bankers and financiers. It is interesting that when Jesus first meets Matthew, he responds to the Pharisees’ criticism of him dining with sinners and tax collectors by saying ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
It’s an interesting juxtaposition that Jesus says that he is interested in “mercy and not sacrifice” as he brings in a tax collector as an Apostle. After all, tax collectors are basically only interested in collecting debts and not forgiving them.
So why does Jesus bring a tax collector to be among the Twelve? Everything Jesus does is a lesson or parable, so why a tax collector? Aside from associating with the marginalized, which is a lesson he taught by word and deed often, I believe that St. Matthew’s occupation tells us something about our relationship with resources. One of the lesson to be learned, I think, is that we are not sacrificing to curry favor with God but rather to be merciful in order to meet the needs of God’s people.
The other lesson to be learned is reflected in something Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. is quoted as saying. He said that "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.'' So at its best, tax policy collects a little from everyone so that major projects can be accomplished such as roads, bridges, national defense, and so on. There is no coincidence that taxation and civilization rose at the same time.
So what does tax policy have to do with Jesus’ mission on earth? What governments call tax policy, we call stewardship. And while the government is only interested in money, the Christian economy requires even more… what it requires is the totality of who we are – our time, our talent as well as our treasure. Part of all of us is required to help the whole world.
In a few weeks we will start up our stewardship campaign and while I recognize that monetary resources are an important aspect of stewardship, there are also other personal economies that need to be recognized. A person is not the sum total of his or her bank account. We have other, to my mind, even more important resources. Our intellect, our capacity to comfort one another, our strengths and vulnerabilities; these must also be shared with the world.
Also just as important is our time… our volunteer time, the time we spend with other people or the time we set aside for prayer and meditation. Look we even use the word “spend” when talking about offering our precious time. This too is an extremely valuable commodity. Also part of our time should be dedicated to improve ourselves – to be healthier, to constantly learn and grow for the benefit of ourselves and others.
There is another difference between the government’s tax policy and Christian stewardship. While the government hires a tax collector to portion your due share; Jesus asks you to be your own assessor. Jesus asks you to evaluate the totality of who you are and asks you to set apart of the best parts of yourself to share with the world.
I am reminded of stewardship, every day at the Center. For over thirty years the Center has been at the hub of an economy of mercy… programs and services supported by the time, talent and treasure and the tireless dedication of the staff and volunteers who use those resources to help our neighbors in need.
I hope as we discuss stewardship in the upcoming month, you remember that you are all part of an economy of mercy and that you carefully consider all the gifts that you have and to set aside a portion of those gifts to offer to the world.