January/2024 Keeping God’s appointments By Fr. Stephen Durkee, Director of Priestly Vocations Father Acrea was…
‘Get used to different’
Jesus calls fishermen, tax collectors and, yes, you
At the beginning of the pandemic, friends in the parish started to recommend The Chosen, a popular television show about the life of Jesus. It is rooted in Scripture but takes creative license to explore how these moments happened. The show fills in the details to give us a new view of the Divine Person Jesus Christ, how he might have lived, the friends he had and how they interacted with one another. The show has been a breath of fresh air.
What I have particularly enjoyed is the intentionality of Christ. I appreciate how every action he takes he does with a purpose. This is apparent in the Scriptures, but the show has found a new way to illuminate these seemingly small details and has given me new appreciation for Jesus’ intentional way of living. Everywhere he goes is about a person he intends to meet – a person whose life is about to change.
One of the most profound examples is Jesus’ encounter with Matthew the tax collector. Matthew is hated by his people. He is disliked so much by his Jewish brothers and sisters that he hires somebody to carry him in a cart to his post to avoid being spit on or jeered at. Matthew is detested because he profits off the poor. He is also estranged from his family.
Matthew has nobody. His closest friend is the Roman guard ordered to protect him only so that Matthew can collect taxes from the Jews and send them back to Rome. What’s more, Matthew thinks that he is doing the logical thing. He is using his intellectual gifts to make a living.
Then something happens that changes everything. Jesus heals a paralytic. Suddenly, Matthew can’t figure something out. For the first time, he is left without an answer. He even goes to his mother to ask if she thinks that miracles can happen, but she rebuffs him and reminds him that he is a disappointment to her and his father. Matthew leaves clearly upset and feeling rejected.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus heals the paralytic at the beginning of Chapter 9. Then we have this verse: “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, ‘Follow me.’” (Mt 9:9)
I love the creativity of The Chosen. The show depicts this passage by showing Jesus walking past Matthew. Then he stops, turns around, looks intently at Matthew, and calls out to him, “Follow me.” Matthew, in disbelief says, “Me, really?”
Here’s what I love about this moment. This is when Christ’s grace meets Matthew’s shame. By shame, I am talking about what the writer Brené Brown describes as that “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. ‘I am bad.’ ‘I am a mess.’ The focus is on self, not behavior, with the result that we feel alone. Shame is never known to lead us toward positive change.”
Matthew has every reason to believe that he is “bad” because he has been told that by everyone around him. He is a failure. He is rejected. He is not loved, and he doesn’t belong as a member of the Jewish people.
Then comes Jesus, who changes everything. In that one simple invitation, “Follow me,” Jesus says to Matthew: “You are loved. You are a blessing. You belong. I have a place for you among my followers.” This moment was so controversial that Peter ran over to Jesus to correct him, saying, “Why him? He’s a sinner!” Jesus responds, “This is basically the same as how I found you at the Sea of Galilee.” Peter retorts, “But this is different!” Jesus: “Get used to different.”
Friends, get used to different. Get used to the God who looks on you with love. Get used to the God who takes away your shame and says, “You are good!” To all those considering a vocational call, do not let shame deter you from following God. God’s love and grace is greater than our sins could ever be.
FATHER STEPHEN DURKEE
is director of priestly vocations for the Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids. Contact him at [email protected].