21st September 2021
The Feast of Saint Matthew: Apostle & Evangelist
On a day that we celebrate the feast of the evangelist Matthew, it is just appropriate that the Gospel Reading comes from the Gospel that bears his name. It is also in order that the passage read speaks of the call of Matthew. The Evangelist tells us that before Jesus called Matthew, he had a trade or profession. He was a tax collector, meaning that he worked for the Roman authorities in exacting taxes from his fellow Jews and other people for the coffers of the Roman civil authorities.
This profession was not appreciated by the Jews and they considered fellow Jews who performed this task for the Romans to be traitors. As such, the tax collectors were sinners and no loyal or faithful Jew should have anything to do with them. From the perspective of many Jews, Jesus, being a prophet or a man of God, should not associate with such people at all. Despite the negative perception that the Jews had about Matthew, Jesus approached him at his work place and threw an invitation to him.
It was an invitation that would change his life radically. The spontaneous response of Matthew to the words “follow me” reveals his inner disposition which is contrary to what the Jews thought about tax collectors like him. Matthew was not a bad or evil person; he was open to receiving the Good News of Jesus Christ.
He was disposed to become a disciple so when he received the invitation, he did not hesitate. The indignation of the Pharisees at the sight of Jesus dining in the house of Matthew reveals that they, the Pharisees, are rather the ones who fail to understand the ways to God. In the First Reading, Paul begins by introducing himself as “the prisoner in the Lord”.
This is a striking statement as Paul has been speaking until now of the great power of God at work in the community of believers and in the world. He has no difficulties to refer to himself as a prisoner and not a free person as should have been the case. Yes, Paul is a prisoner of the Lord but he is also a free man in the Lord.
His imprisonment was for the sake of the Lord and it was a means that he would use to the advantage of the Lord. His imprisonment would give him the great opportunity of finally teaching about Christ in the great city of Rome. From the life of both Matthew and Paul we learn that God looks at the heart and not the external appearance. God is ready to welcome the sinner if he sincerely repents his sinful deeds.
God does not want the death of the sinner but his conversion to new life. By his action in the Gospel Reading, Jesus teaches us that we should not be quick in labelling people as sinners, unworthy of the call of God to discipleship. We should rather look for all opportunities to bring people to God by inviting them to a closer and personal relationship with God. This is possible if we know how to go beyond appearances and to do away with stereotyping people.