Sept 21st. St Matthew, Apostle
Eph 4:1-7,11-13. Variety of gifts and tasks in the Church
Mt 9:9-13. Matthew’s vocation, to become an apostle.
Before meeting Jesus, Matthew was a collaborationist Jew, working for the occupying Roman forces, collecting taxes from other Jews. The Romans were not scrupulous about what the “tax farmers” got for themselves. Hence the latter, known as “publicans,” were generally hated as traitors by their fellow Jews. The Pharisees lumped them with “sinners” (see Matt 9:11-13). So it was shocking to them to hear Jesus call such a man to be one of his intimate followers.
We sense the transformation that took place in Matthew’s heart on the day when he left his tax booth, never to return. Perhaps he had already had some contact with the Gospel message and had begun pondering the gnawing emptiness in his heart as he added to his pile of profits. When Jesus came by and called directly to Matthew, “Follow me,” what surprise and joy must have filled his heart. Without hesitation he abandoned his lucrative occupation and followed Jesus.
Matthew got Jesus in further trouble by having a sort of going-away party at his house. The Gospel tells us that “many” tax collectors and “those known as sinners” came to the dinner. The Pharisees were still more badly shocked. What business did the supposedly great teacher have associating with such immoral people? Jesus’ answer was, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Mt 9:12b-13). Jesus is not setting aside ritual and worship; he is saying that loving others is even more important.
From such an unlikely situation, Jesus chose one of the foundations of the Church, a man others, judging from his job, thought was not holy enough for the position. But he was honest enough to admit that he was one of the sinners Jesus came to call. He was open enough to recognize truth when he saw him. “And he got up and followed him” (Mt 9:9b).
We imagine Matthew, after the terrible events surrounding the death of Jesus, going to the mountain to which the risen Lord had summoned them. “When they saw him, they worshipped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them [we think of him looking at each one in turn, Matthew listening and excited with the rest], ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age'” (Mt 28:17-20).
Matthew would never forget that day. He proclaimed the Good News by his life and by his word, and his message is alive today through the Gospel written under his name.
First Reading: Eph 4:1-7,11-13
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
Gospel: Matthew 9:9-13
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.”