Caravaggio: The Calling of Matthew The Gospel People Are Dying to Hear
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6
Look at the painting above. What do you see? Jesus is on the far right. His arm is outstretched and pointing. To whom is he pointing? No, not at the closest one. The one way at the other side. It is Matthew, the tax collector. He is also called Levi, a man who bears the “priestly” name and is anything but. A traitor. A cheater. Despised. Please notice that Matthew is so consumed with money that he won’t even look up from his counting table. But despite this and perhaps because of it, Jesus wants him to be his disciple, a follower, eventually a friend. Yes…him. But why?
Could it be that he was among those who were most hungry and thirsty? Did Jesus know this because of Matthew’s money-grubbing occupation or did Jesus perhaps see it in his eyes? Could it be that those seated closest to Jesus were looking for nothing more than a religious conversation but that Matthew needed to change or die? I think so. Jesus wants the hungry and thirsty people. He claimed that he was calling (picking, choosing, preferring?) those who were sick rather than well, sinners rather than the righteous. A quick perusal of the beatitudes tells us that among other qualities, the make-up of the kingdom is: the spiritually poor, grieving, undistinguished people who hunger and thirst for righteousness. That is a perfect description of the sexually broken, the lust addict looking for a way out.
Where are these people today? Among other places, they are often surfing the web looking for a very legitimate need to be met: the need for connection, belonging, for the hunger and thirst of their souls to be satisfied. Now you might say, doesn’t Jesus talk about “righteousness” as the goal? Yes, he does. What does righteousness have to do with surfing the web? But if we take the full New Testament understanding of the word righteousness, we find that “righteousness” and “connection” are intimately related. When we read the Epistle to the Romans for instance, we discover that the entire book is about how sinful man can be “connected” to a holy God. Connection, Emmanuel, “God with us,” is why Jesus came.
You see, real sinners feel they must make a connection or they will die. It’s no good telling us not to be thirsty. We already are. The problem is that the lust connection is often front-loaded within us from early days. We have perfected denying or ignoring consequences. After all, once we find the right person to marry, we’ll be fine, right? As we perfect hiding it, our addiction becomes easy, routine, familiar. The internet simply facilitates it the inner drive for false connection.
Finally, after devastating consequences, many of us get into recovery. We soon discover, as the AA big book says, our compulsion can be “removed” but not “eliminated.” In Step One, we learn that our powerlessness over lust is a permanent condition, a damaged perspective.. Ron J. writes, “We don’t comprehend that lust is a disposition of the heart, an attitude.” (Impossible Joy p. 198) But the reality is if I pursue this false connection of lust, I will die. Why? Because I am substituting the real connection with Jesus, the deeply spiritual and authentic one, for an idol. Anything and I mean anything I put in the place of God brings death. In fact, surrendering myself to a negative, idolatrous force within insures I will die, lost in shame, resentment, fear and despair. Since Adam and Eve, people have believed the serpent’s lie that they would not die. Why? Because everything seemed so normal! But it wasn’t. The force of negativity we call sin was unleashed. Like Humpty Dumpty and Pandora’s Box, it could not be reversed.
The reality staring us in the face in today’s church is that a high percentage of Christian people, saved by grace, are caught in this false connection. But there is great good news for the lust addicted, Christian or not. It is very simple. Instead of trying to be strong and failing repeatedly, I can admit I can’ t handle it. ( Step One) I can admit on my own I am a hopeless case. The early AA’s paraphrased the first three steps this way. I can’t. He can. I think I’ll let him. In Step Three, I surrender my lust to him. And the amazing thing is he takes it every time! But it is more than that. He wants to take it and bear it away.The one who was “tempted in every way as we are,” who in effect says “I know” whenever I struggle with lust, says “give it to me. You were never meant to bear this. Only I can bear it away. I am your lust-bearer. Do not deprive me of the very thing I desire to do for you.” We in the addiction recovery community have discovered that we meet him at the point of our daily temptations, where our weakness and his sufficiency meet, or not at all. If Jesus really is Lord, we will have to meet him in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Think about this. Just as Jesus came to die for our sins and “seek and save the lost,” so today he desires in love to bear the burdens away from his people. He is not shocked by what we struggle with. He himself called us sick and sinful, even “evil.” (Matthew 7:11). If he sought to unburden us at the cross, why would he not live to take what we were never meant to bear right now? “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) This intimate, hidden place where we turn specific temptations over to him is the key to life for those of us who struggle with lust.
Hebrews tells us, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7:25) Save completely? Yes, every time I am willing to surrender the unbearable to him. This includes lust challenges as well as resentments built up during the day. I may have to do it multiple times throughout the day or night. But he takes it every single time.
There is so much more to say about this. But what about those of us who preach and teach the word? We are being called to speak to the disconnected and the false connected of this world. They are everywhere today, especially online. They understand the language of connection (wireless and otherwise), while often settling for the misconnection. But when we live the Jesus connection, and share what we have lived in rigorous honesty of who we truly are and the hope of what can be, the One that offers immediate and thirst-quenching impossible joy shines through. Soon, others will find Him taking from them what they were never meant to bear, just like Matthew who eventually looked up from his obsession and found the ultimate connection standing right in front of him.
“He not only did bear the sin of the world. He does bear it. He is the same here and now as He was there and then: the Mediator between God and us.” Karl Barth