JESUS TURNED MATTHEW, THE MUCH HATED TAX COLLECTOR, INTO AN APOSTLE OF LOVE
(A biblical reflection on the FEAST OF ST. MATTHEW, APOSTLE & EVANGELIST, 21 September, 2010)
Gospel Reading: Mt 9:9-13
First Reading: Eph 4:1-7,11-13; Psalm: Ps 19:2-5
As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and He said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed Him.
And as He sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when He heard it, 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, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mt 9:9-13).
Imagine Matthew sitting at his customs post along the road that passed Capernaum, totally absorbed in his work. In the eyes of the Jewish farmers and fishermen who had to pay him a toll to carry their products down the road to market, Matthew most probably seemed like a traitor: He was raising taxes for the Roman regime that held them in subjection. In addition, tax collectors enriched themselves by charging higher fees than they were required to turn over to the government. Thus, Matthew was probably regarded as a thief as well. Tax collectors were barred from the synagogue, just like robbers and murderers.
Jesus had just healed a man of paralysis (Mt 9:1-8) and, as He left Capernaum, He had to walk by Matthew’s toll office. Probably to Matthew’s astonishment – certainly to the astonishment of Jesus’ followers! – We can only imagine what went through Matthew’s mind. No doubt Matthew had heard about Jesus before this encounter. Perhaps, like Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-4), Matthew had stood on the periphery of the crowd and listened to Jesus. Had his heart been touched by what he heard? Had Matthew asked himself, “Who is this man, Jesus?” Did he feel some vague desire to break free of the sin of his outcast way of life?
We cannot read Matthew’s thoughts, but we know that this wordly man did respond joyfully to Jesus’ invitation. He did not delay a minute in responding to the Lord’s invitation to turn from his old ways and spent his life as a disciple (and later as a missionary, and an evangelist). As soon as Jesus said, “Follow Me,” Matthew got up and followed Him (Mt 9:9). By day’s end, Matthew invited Jesus to join him and his fellow tax collectors at a dinner in his home.
The story of Matthew’s calling should bring us great encouragement. Jesus did not come looking for people who were already perfect. He came looking for the lost. Jesus saw Matthew as He sees all of us – not just for what we are, but for what we can become with His help. Now, please remember how the Pharisees grumbled when Jesus sat down at the table with Matthew and the other “sinners”. They said it was inappropriate for a rabbi to associate with tax collectors and sinners. But Jesus said that these were the very people He had come to invite into His Kingdom.
Jesus loved Matthew and had a specific task waiting for him in the Kingdom. Jesus might not call you to be a full-time evangelist as he did Matthew – or maybe He will. Whatever He calls you to, that call will certainly involve being a witness to your family, friends, and co-workers to help them accept Jesus into their lives. Please remember, it is in the small daily acts of obedience – attending Holy Mass, reading the Words of God in the Scriptures for a few minutes every day, examining your conscience and asking forgiveness for your sins – that you are saying “yes” to Jesus’ call. Begin with these simple steps, and you will find God’s power working through you in ways you may never have expected. Jesus turned Matthew, the much hated and hardened tax collector into an apostle of love. He can do the same thing with each and everyone of us. No personal transformation is impossible with God!
Short prayer: Thank you, Lord Jesus, for calling me out of darkness and into the light, to leave my selfish ways behind and follow You. My good Lord, change me as much as you changed Matthew. Amen.
Jakarta, 19 September 2010 [The 25th Ordinary Sunday]
A Christian Pilgrim