Memorial of St. Anthony the Abbot

There is an idea that is commonly attributed to Martin Luther that the redeemed person is like a “snow-covered dung heap.” In other words, the saving work of Christ covers our wretched sinfulness in purity, changing God’s attitude toward us from one of disgust to one of acceptance; we are “clothed” in Christ’s own holiness. However, as we can see in this week’s readings, the purification of our baptism, this water that is always flowing, always at work within us, is not given simply to make us smell better in preparation for a meal at the Lord’s table; no, we are utterly remade.

John told us that we would be drowned in the love of the Father; consider your own experiences of love and say whether or not you were changed! Did Simon and Andrew, James and John encounter Christ on the sea shore and cast their nets again that very day? Were the possessed simply straightened up and made to seem normal, or were their demons cast out, never to return? Was Simon’s mother-in-law healed or was it merely that her symptoms were managed? Was the leper made clean, or made up to look clean? Did the paralytic walk away, or was this a figure of speech?

Are you a child of God, or are you simply like a child of God?

Today we have the story of Levi, also known as Matthew, whose name means “attached.” As we can see, he clearly has an attachment to something: money. Tax collectors in Jesus’ day were equated with the most notorious of sinners and were among the spiritual lepers of their day. Yet Jesus goes to him, lets the waters of the Father’s love break against him and Levi yields to the current, being swept along the path of discipleship; we now know St. Matthew as one of our greatest saints, an apostle and evangelist. Was he a disciple simply because his social context changed from being a tax collector to following Jesus around? No; he is known as a saint because he was changed. The saving work of Jesus that begins and continues in our baptism is transformative precisely because it is the work of God’s love in our whole being, and love transforms as surely as does fire. Love does not simply cover us; love consumes us and changes us, over time, into itself. Levi allowed God’s love to consume him and he was transformed; what once was a dung heap is now snow through-and-through. Let us follow Levi’s example and detach ourselves from anything we are clinging to against the current of the waters of baptism that wish to sweep us into the great ocean of the Father’s love.

January 17th, 2015