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Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Start:Stop - None are excluded from Jesus’ friendship

Bible Reading

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Mathew 9. 9-13)


This week we have at St Stephen Walbrook the Diocesan icon of hospitality. Commissioned in 2007 by the Bishop of LondonRevd Regan O’Callaghan depicts three smiling women from the congregation of St John on Bethnal Green Church, seated around a table. The triptych was a commission on the theme of welcome and 3 Mothers was blessed by the Bishop and installed in the reception of Diocesan House, London where they resided for a few years. After this they have been on the move and have been installed in different places, now coming to St Stephen Walbrook.

The women reflect the diverse nature of the congregation at St John’s as well as the local East End community. Each woman is a wife, mother, and grandmother, a person of faith and a committed hard working member of their church, something the artist wanted to celebrate. The three women also symbolise in part the important role of women – particularly older women – in the Church of England. The opened hand of Mother Pearl is held out to greet the viewer to the table, a place of fellowship and hospitality while Mother Becky and Mother Miriam look on.

This icon has relevance to our reading today because in his homily based this reading Pope Francis says that none are excluded from Jesus’ friendship. Pope Francis notes that in this reading Jesus welcomes into the group of his close friends a man who, according to the concepts in vogue in Israel at that time, was regarded as a public sinner.

Matthew, in fact, not only handled money deemed impure because of its provenance from people foreign to the People of God, but he also collaborated with an alien and despicably greedy authority whose tributes moreover, could be arbitrarily determined. This is why the Gospels several times link "tax collectors and sinners" (Mt 9: 10; Lk 15: 1), as well as "tax collectors and prostitutes" (Mt 21: 31).

A first fact strikes one based on these references: Jesus does not exclude anyone from his friendship. Indeed, precisely while he is at table in the home of Matthew-Levi, in response to those who expressed shock at the fact that he associated with people who had so little to recommend them, he made the important statement: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mk 2: 17).

The good news of the Gospel consists precisely in this: offering God's grace to the sinner! Elsewhere, with the famous words of the Pharisee and the publican who went up to the Temple to pray, Jesus actually indicates an anonymous tax collector as an appreciated example of humble trust in divine mercy: while the Pharisee is boasting of his own moral perfection, the "tax collector... would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner!'". And Jesus comments: "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Lk 18: 13-14).

Thus, in the figure of Matthew, the Gospels present to us a true and proper paradox: those who seem to be the farthest from holiness can even become a model of the acceptance of God's mercy and offer
a glimpse of its marvellous effects in their own lives.


We pray for the Church throughout the world that she may be a living example of a loving community, and a voice for those who are hungry for justice. Enable St Stephen Walbrook to achieve its mission of providing, without prejudice or expectation, a safe and welcoming place where people of all religious faiths or none can find spiritual inspiration, guidance, encouragement & support. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of hope, in Jesus you made heaven visible to earth and earth visible to heaven: make St Stephen Walbrook a community at the heart of your kingdom alongside those on the edge of society that each day we may seek your glory, and embody your grace. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for the world’s leaders, that they may work to overcome the barriers between peoples and foster a spirit of global community. We pray for our own local community here in the City of London, praying for any who may feel excluded through poverty, disability, illness, discrimination or prejudice. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The Blessing

God our Father, in love you sent your Son that the world may have life: lead us to seek him among the outcast and to find him in those in need, and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.


John Tavener - Apolytikion of Our Holy Father Nicholas.

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