Chapter 9: The Calling of Matthew
We tend to think that God chooses His followers from among people whose human and social qualities are perfect; but we forget that Jesus selected his apostles from among fishermen, tax collectors, sinners and ordinary people. In fact, when God’s mercy embraces the heart of man it transforms an ordinary person into a charismatic individual, imaginative in faith and charity. And when this grace creates us anew, it sends us out into the world to proclaim the Good News, not through our works done in pride, but through the action of the God who loves all of humanity.
Have you already experienced an invitation and call from God in your life? Has anyone expressed confidence in you or asked you to help with some project? How else do you explain your presence here, among catechumens, candidates for baptism? Have you already experienced God’s love personally? Do you believe that belonging to the new Body of the Church will help you to share your talents even more? Or is belonging to the Church only an advantageous commitment? This is the theme of today, focusing on the Christian vocation and its communal and ecclesiastical dimensions.
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.
3- Theological and Spiritual Teaching: The Church
One of the greatest gifts that God grants us is the Church which consists of a community of believers in Christ. When Jesus began his public ministry after being baptized in the River Jordan and spending 40 days fasting in the desert, he called on his disciples to be with him. He taught them with his words, his deeds, his statements, his night vigils and his prayers for them. After his Ascension, he left them with a mission to become his church present in the heart of the world. The experience his disciples had with Christ is very important; they were in fact eyewitnesses of what happened, and they were charged with accompanying future believers, from generation to generation, and to remain faithful to the faith which they had received personally from Christ.
St Paul calls the Church “the Body of Christ”. After his Resurrection from the Dead, Jesus entered into the glory of God; his body is no longer touchable. So, the question arises: how can people then meet him; how will they hear his words and get to know him? This is the mission of the Church: it is to continue the mission of Christ in the heart of the world, by accompanying the sick; enlightening those who seek the true meaning of life; ensuring the protection of human life and that the dignity of man is respected; but above all by sanctifying the faithful by the grace of God and by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Just as the body is one but has many members, so are we, many believers, despite our numbers, belonging to a single body; each one of us is a member, equal in dignity to the others, each given a charism, a gift of grace, sufficient for each member to receive the mission received by Christ, together with the other members of the body.
Baptism marks our entry into the Church; when we are clothed in Christ, the Christian community welcomes us as children of God. Therefore, it is not good for the Christian to live his faith alone, isolated from the body of Christ. The Eucharist – the Holy Mass – is of crucial importance in this respect: it is the celebration of the Eucharistic and Ecclesial Body of Christ. We gather around Our Lord to offer our thanksgiving sacrifice to God, and he cleanses us by his word and makes us one in his Body, which we receive in Holy Communion. We exchange greetings of peace with each other and we do not forget our duty to help the poor. All this has the Church, inspired by the Holy Spirit, clearly provided; it is the foundation of the life of each Christian.
The Church is organized around her shepherds: the Pope, that is, the Bishop of Rome, Patriarchs and Bishops. The latter delegate the priests to the service of the people, according to their geographical distribution in parishes. It is advisable that a Christian belongs to a single parish. In this way, he or she can get to know the people there and vice versa; and together they will proceed, like a family, towards the Kingdom and its mission.
4- Reading and Meditation: A Reading from St Ignatius of Antioch (c.110 AD)
To the Church in Rome
Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which has obtained mercy, through the majesty of the Most High Father, and Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son; the Church which is beloved and enlightened by the will of Him that wills all things which are according to the love of Jesus Christ our God, which also presides in the place of the region of the Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of the highest happiness, worthy of praise, worthy of obtaining her every desire, worthy of being deemed holy, and which presides over love, is named from Christ, and from the Father, which I also salute in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father: to those who are united, both according to the flesh and spirit, to every one of His commandments; who are filled inseparably with the grace of God, and are purified from every strange taint, [I wish] abundance of happiness unblameably, in Jesus Christ our God.
I write to the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless you hinder me. I beseech of you not to show an unseasonable good-will towards me. Allow me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ. Rather entice the wild beasts, that they may become my tomb, and may leave nothing of my body; so that when I have fallen asleep [in death], I may be no trouble to anyone. Then shall I truly be a disciple of Christ, when the world shall not see so much as my body. Entreat Christ for me, that by these instruments I may be found a sacrifice [to God]. I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles; I am but a condemned man: they were free, while I am, even until now, a servant. But when I suffer, I shall be the freedman of Jesus, and shall rise again emancipated in Him. And now, being a prisoner, I learn not to desire anything worldly or vain.11