21 September – Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
Matthew was the son of Alphaeus, and he lived at Capernaum on Lake Genesareth. He was a Roman tax collector, a position equated with collaboration with the enemy by those from whom he collected taxes. Jesus’ contemporaries were surprised to see the Christ with a traitor, but Jesus explained that he had come “not to call the just, but sinners”.
Matthew’s Gospel is given pride of place in the canon of the New Testament, and was written to convince Jewish readers that their anticipated Messiah had come in the person of Jesus. He preached among the Jews for 15 years; his audiences may have included the Jewish enclave in Ethiopia, and places in the East.
– Patron Saints Index
I, the prisoner in the Lord, implore you to lead a life worthy of your vocation. Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope when you were called. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is Father of all, over all, through all and within all.
Each one of us, however, has been given his own share of grace, given as Christ allotted it. To some, his gift was that they should be apostles; to some, prophets; to some, evangelists; to some, pastors and teachers; so that the saints together make a unity in the work of service, building up the body of Christ. In this way we are all to come to unity in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God, until we become the perfect Man, fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself.
As Jesus was walking on he saw a man named Matthew sitting by the customs house, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.
While he was at dinner in the house it happened that a number of tax collectors and sinners came to sit at the table with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ When he heard this he replied, ‘It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. Go and learn the meaning of the words: What I want is mercy, not sacrifice. And indeed I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners.’
He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.
Before he became one of the Twelve Apostles, St. Matthew worked as a tax collector in Capernaum. At the time, tax collectors were viewed negatively by the people, as evidenced in the Bible, particularly in today’s Gospel reading. When people saw Jesus sitting at the table with tax collectors, the Pharisees questioned this, lumping tax collectors with sinners. Because of his prior incarnation as a tax collector, St. Matthew is the patron saint of tax collectors, accountants and bankers.
Today’s world hasn’t changed much. Bankers are still viewed negatively: the “fat cats” of Wall Street and other major financial capitals in the world. Not long ago, people were up in arms over bankers who collected huge bonuses while the world experienced a global financial crisis. The Occupy Wall Street movement raised issues of inequality, both socially and economically, greed and corruption, in particular within the financial sector. The bankers’ lives of excess as portrayed in the media also added more fuel to the fire.
So it is with interest that one would question why Jesus called Matthew to follow him. Can a person perceived as greedy and in cahoots with the Romans be deemed worthy enough to follow the Messiah? Jesus rebukes the Pharisees and says, “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” Jesus probably saw the flaws in Matthew, and perhaps Matthew might not have been perfect in character. But he was the perfect canvas for Jesus to paint on, to convert someone so mired in materialism, and that would not be any different from us today. We don’t even have to be a banker, or tax collector or accountant. Perhaps there is a certain sort of life that we are living, that we can’t let go of. Would we be in a position to put it down, leave everything and go when Jesus calls us?
Recall the story of the rich man who did everything that Jesus exhorted, and asked what more he could do. He went away depressed when Jesus told him to sell all his possessions and donate the proceeds to the needy (Mark 10:17-31), for this man was rich indeed. But Jesus has promised us eternal life for those who leave everything to follow him.
If we fear or second guess our ability to come whenever Jesus calls, let us doubt no further but say to ourselves, if St. Matthew could do it, and walk away from it all to a higher calling, then so can we.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)
Thanksgiving: St. Matthew, we pray to you not to let our lives be attached to the material things on earth that will pass in time. Help us train our eyes instead to a greater treasure in heaven, which Jesus has promised us.
Prayer: St. Matthew, thank you for being our shining example of will power and knowing what is worth following. As Jesus comes to call the sinners, pray for us that we will hear when he calls us too.