2- Reading and understanding the Gospel: The Calling of Matthew (Mt 9:9-13)
9As Jesus was walking on from there 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.
10While 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. 11When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12When he heard this, he replied, “It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. 13Go 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.”
2. 1- Explanation
The miraculous power of Jesus is not only involved in healing physical sicknesses, but it also seeks to grant man remission from all the evils which threaten him. The name of Jesus means “God saves”, he who saves his people from their sins, which proves the great mercy of God the Father to the world. These, then, are the ‘headlines’ we find the Gospel of Matthew’s call (Mt 9: 9) conveys and the subsequent argument about Jesus sharing the table with sinner (Mt 9:10-13).
The call of Matthew (Mt 9:9) is similar to the invitation to the first four disciples (Mt 4:18-22): Jesus passes by, sees and calls – the follower stands up and follows him. Jesus continues to pass through our world today, continually calling people to rise up and follow him. Jesus has already called fishermen and now he calls a sinner: Matthew was a collector of taxes for the Roman Empire. He was a sinner beyond penance because of his friendly relationship with the foreign, pagan occupiers and because he embezzled some of the money collected. Thus, Jews who observed the Jewish Law avoided him. Jesus looked at Matthew with mercy and love, offering him a chance to help in proclaiming the Kingdom. No one had ever looked at Matthew the way Jesus did; people despised him and made fun of him. However, Jesus taught us that a sinner is cured with mercy, not by judgement. Matthew was originally called ‘Levi’ (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27), but the name Matthew means “gift of God”.
Matthew held a banquet in honour of Jesus and invited his friends also, but the Pharisees criticized the presence of Jesus and his disciples with those sinners. Jesus then responded by taking an image of daily life and a quotation from the prophet Hosea. Everyone understands the image of the sick who need a doctor, so Jesus made the choice, implicitly, to place Matthew and his companions in the category of the sick who need healing and not under a law that judges and isolates them. He quotes the Old Testament prophet Hosea: “It is mercy that I want, not sacrifice” (Hos 6:6). This makes clear the idea that God refuses, not prayers and sacrifices ordained by the Law, but external rites impoverished of all compassion of heart and purity of intent. It is not the act of sitting at table with the sinner that tarnishes man, but the offering of a sacrifice with contempt and hatred of others.
2. 2- Summary and Practice
What God detests is hypocritical behaviour. God rejoices if you are a sinner who repents; He is not interested in showy external sacrifices. True justice requires a disciple to fit his words to his actions. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering (Mt 5:23-24).
Today, Jesus passes by and calls on you to follow him. It matters little to him whether you are a big sinner or a believer with little sins. What matters is conversion and entering into the “syllabus” of the Kingdom of Heaven. God creates a new you with the power of His grace and counts on you to speak of His love and His forgiveness to all, as He has done with you. This is why you must stay away from hypocrisy, confess your sins and work hard to become a permanent disciple of Christ.
Remember that the essence of the Law and religious commandments aims at bringing people closer to God, and not isolating them from Him or from each other. Isolation consists of pride and selfishness. Our virtue lies in the fact that we are repentant, forgiven sinners. We are not the elite of society, nor of the Church. Those who are preparing for baptism should understand that they are gradually leaving behind, little by little, their past leanings and habits, and preparing to live a new life in Christ.
If you accept this call to repent, thanks to baptism, you will become a part of the community of believers, those who are living progress towards holiness, under the authority of the bishops, the successors of the Apostles. And after you have made some progress in the Christian life, perhaps Jesus will call you anew, to consecration in religious or priestly life. Know no fear with Christ or his Church but be alive with permanent joy and go from victory to victory.