‘Suddenly I feel overwhelmed by implications. The way he’s co-ordinating to stand is part of his whole way of being in the world, and here’s me about to move in and maybe change that, or at least offer a different possibility. A sense of politeness paralyses me for a moment. I don’t want to interrupt. Later I talk with [the teacher]. She looks at me with steady compassion. ‘Actually, I see that as part of my job. To interrupt patterns.’ She’s right. Interrupting is part of my job.’
Interrupting is part of my job. I think Saint Matthew would have agreed and as we celebrate his saint’s day today, and consider the ways in which he presented the teachings of and about Jesus in the gospel that bears his name, I invite you to consider him as a great interrupter. I also invite you to consider that interrupting is also part of our job as ministers, teacher and spiritual directors. It is our task, with the guidance of the spirit, to help others interrupt their destructive habits of life and behaviour, whether at the individual or communal level, and find transformation....
Why? Because part of his purpose is to interrupt his Jewish readership’s understanding of their own tradition and history. To a Jewish reader the great teacher and giver of the law was Moses.Matthew’s text is clearly designed to interrupt that understanding and everything that flowed from it-who was in, who was out; who has power and who doesn’t. This is why for Matthew it is so important to see the events of Jesus life as fulfilment of prophecy. Again and again he writes ‘this was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken through the prophet’. By doing this he not only provides justification for his understanding of Jesus as the Messiah, he interrupts his Jewish readers’ thought process, that sees themselves as God’s exclusive people, in a particular relationship with God that no one else can match.
All of a sudden their understanding of how to live is interrupted. In for instance the sermon on the mount, something different is being demanded beyond the keeping of the law - not just do not kill or commit adultery, actually put aside the angers and desires that lead to such behaviours, to quote just one tiny fragment of that great teaching section. Matthew encourages Jesus disciples to actively interrupt established patterns of human behaviour and relating and act differently. In other words: 'Get yourself an new heart - become a new person.' This is the message of Matthew’s Jesus - not surprising as this is what he experienced himself, when he left his role as a tax collector and promised restitution to any he had wronged.
Interrupting established patterns can lead to transformation, not just of the individual but of the whole society. It is at least a happy coincidence that the International Peace Day should fall on the feast of St. Matthew, who famously records Jesus as saying ‘blessed are the peacemakers.’ In itself a radical interruption of the established understanding of an eye for an eye. People who are peacemakers are also children of God, and we cannot be children of God unless we seek always ways of peace. For the disciple of Jesus this means interrupting the cycles of violence that beset or world. Today this is as simple as a cease fire for one day, that allows all kinds of simple things to happen- medical supplies and supplies of food to cross enemy lines and bring relief; refugees to be granted safe access for a day; children to learn and play for one day without the sound of gunfire; for one day for people to experience the normality of a way of life they may have almost forgotten.
This is a fitting though accidental tribute to Matthew, who in his own day challenged the followers of Jesus to interrupt their destructive patterns of conflict and dominance and look for other ways. Which is not to deny the violence of the world that Matthew presents. Matthew’s Jesus encounters violence from his birth onwards, for it is Matthew’s account that teaches us of Herod and the massacre of the innocents. Yet it is also Matthew’s account that in its opening genealogies interrupts the easy patterns of patriarchy and respectability to include such figures as Tamar, Bathsheba, Rahab and Ruth among those who are the ancestors of Jesus. That opening genealogy is a total interruption of the great men of history view of the world that the Jewish leaders of Jesus day enjoyed. Whom might we seek to highlight in our accounts of Christian tradition, that might interrupt a view of the Church that binds instead of liberates?
Matthew, like his teacher Jesus in parable after parable, messes with our heads, interrupts our settled assumptions and invites us to transformation. Are we open afresh to that interruption? Are we prepared to challenge and interrupt the unhelpful patterns of others and invite them always to life, to love and to peace? In a few moments we will on this Day of Peace, exchange the peace with one another. To do so is in itself to interrupt patterns of violence in our world that do not embrace our neighbour who is different. May we recognise the interruption and use it like a little correction in the Alexander technique, to stand a little straighter and more freely in the transformative grace of Christ. Shalom, Salaam, Shanti, Peace. Amen.
by Penny Jones, for the feast of St Matthew, 21 September 2017