To be honest I’m not that big on Saints: they have to be handled with extreme caution. The kinds of churches which most go on about them can easily be the kinds of churches where Christian people (or ‘saints’ as the NT calls them) end up feeling deskilled, ordinary and not quite up to the mark, and never likely to end up in a stained glass window. However much preachers tell us we ought to learn from their examples, emulate their holiness, and so on, I never find myself entirely convinced: I usually end up feeling told off instead. However, today is St Matthew the Apostle’s day, so here goes. At least Proverbs might not do us much harm.
It’s easy to see why this passage goes with Matthew: it’s about choosing wisdom rather than wealth, which Matthew went on to do. In the OT wisdom literature ‘Wisdom’ is often personified. The clearest example of this is in Proverbs 8 where ‘she’ is depicted as a wise woman who calls out to people as it were to buy her wares, to embrace wisdom rather than folly, ‘wisdom’ meaning, of course, what the French would call savoir-faire or ‘knowing what to do’. It is not primarily deep philosophy: it is much more about knowing what would be the sensible thing to do in the many decisions with which life presents us.
So in chapter 3 to choose wisdom brings several benefits. Blessedness, profit, value, long life, riches, honour, delight and peace. There is an interesting mix of things which the ‘secular’ world might value and those which would be rather lower on the agenda: profit and riches sound good, but ‘blessedness’ is a bit more vague. The implication, though, is that Matthew, in turning his back on the tax business, and no doubt the corruption, fiddling and profit which went with it, in order to follow Jesus, was choosing the better thing. We’re not told, of course, that Matthew was a villain before his call, but the story of Zaccheus perhaps illustrates Matthew’s call a bit further.
We live in a culture where money is pretty much everything. For some the issue is addiction and greed, for others the corrupt use of wealth, while for some it is the anxiety of knowing where the next bit is going to come from. Few of us have learnt St Paul’s secret of being content with our lot (Phil 4:12), and I can’t help but wonder whether there were times when Matthew looked back and wondered how much easier his life might have been if he had simply told Jesus to push off. Whether Matthew ended up being martyred for his faith is a matter of contention, but there is no doubt that he must have suffered some of the hardships which Jesus promised to those who became his followers.
So what does Matthew make you want to ask of yourself? I sometimes wonder whether a different job might have brought me a bit more fame and fortune than has been my lot as a poor vicar, especially when I see my kinds earning double what I do. On a good day I think wisdom is actually worth more, although I wonder whether poverty and wisdom necessarily go together. But all in all I’m glad I chose to follow Jesus, leave behind my dreams of being a rock star or a top executive. I know that one day it will turn out to have been worth every penny, when I hear my Father say to me ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’.