Sunday, September 21, 2008

Saint Matthew

Today many churches observe the feast day of Saint Matthew, another of the twelve apostles and author of the Gospel that appears first in the New Testament. Modern scholarship now holds that the Gospel writer might possibly be some other Matthew instead (the things I find in doing a little research!) but since I already had this hymn picked out I am going to go with the tradition that there is only one.

In that first Gospel, Matthew is described as a tax collector who left his position to follow Jesus. His profession would have made him an outcast at the time, like many others who joined Jesus and his followers. He is traditionally depicted, as in this window, with a winged man, the third of the four living creatures named in Revelation 4 (the other three Evangelists have creatures of their own).

We've seen part of the following hymn before, on the feast day of Saint Mark. The first two verses speak of the four Gospel writers (and the four living creatures); the third verse is unique to each. Today we have a different, but familiar, tune.

Come sing, ye choirs exultant,
Those messengers of God,
Through whom the living Gospels
Came sounding all abroad!
In one harmonious witness
The chosen four combine,
While each his own commission
Fulfills in ev'ry line.

As, in the prophet's vision,
From out the amber flame
In form of visage diverse
Four living creatures came;
Lo, these the fourfold river
Of paradise above,
Whence flow for all earth's people
New mysteries of love.

O Christ, in Matthew's Gospel
Thy godhood was declared,
He, worldly gains forsaking,
Thy path of suff'ring shared.
From all unrighteous mammon,
O give us hearts set free,
That we, whate'er our calling,
May rise and follow thee.

Adam of St. Victor, c.1170;
tr. Jackson Mason, 1889; alt. (v 1 & 2)
Horatio Bolton Nelson, 1864; alt. (v.3)
Samuel Sebastian Wesley, 1864

"Mammon" is a rather archaic word, and I considered changing it to something like "riches." But it is biblical, and it calls attention to itself because it's unique. It speaks of greed and unethical passion for wealth. In light of the economic news that has everyone a bit on edge this week, how appropriate that the saint of the day is a man who left behind his position in the financial system of his time to follow a different path.

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