A reading of the holy Gospel according to Matthew 9:9-13
As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “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.”
REFLECTION: " I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
Not much is written about Matthew, known as Levi, son of Alpheus. In fact, when he writes about himself in this Gospel, there is not much detail. The focus is on Jesus' generous love and mercy for Matthew. Just a few words! It is a beautiful story for all but especially for those who struggle with sin and who may feel they will never get better much less make it to heaven.
Matthew, before being called by Jesus, had chosen an extremely unpopular career path. He was dishonest, greedy and a cheat. His priority was wealth and perhaps social standing, therefore avoiding severe Roman mistreatment.
Having travelled the road of sin, Levi was transformed by God's love. Pope Benedict said, " in the figure of Matthew, the Gospel presents to us a true and proper paradox: those who seem to be the farthest from holiness can even become a model of the acceptance of God's mercy and offer a glimpse of its marvelous effects in their own lives".
A look into his life may help us, who are sinners, not to give up. In Hebrew, Levi means "to accompany" or "to walk together". He lived and worked in Capernaum, one of the main trading villages in the region of Galilee. He collected tolls from people who travelled. People from all over the world travelled thru the Roman road Via Maris. Travelers from Africa to Europe passed through Capernaum. Different cultures met and clashed in Capernaum.
Levi's toll booth was on this road. Herod Antipas was the Tetrarch of the province of Galilee, which included Capernaum. It was this same Herod Antipas who had John the Baptist beheaded.
Rome taxed the provinces with income tax, tolls, import and export taxes, sales and property taxes and crop taxes. The locals of the province bid to be the tax collectors for the Romans. These tax collectors, in turn, would overtax so that they could keep the excess for themselves. And it was all legal. They were considered sinners, Jew stealing from Jew. Tax collectors were not allowed to attend synagogue, donate alms or testify in court. They were generally associated with adulterers, prostitutes and thieves. "
His life was transformed in a single moment when he heard, "Follow me". Jesus called him "Mattai" or Matthew meaning "Gift of the Lord". Matthew shows us that in spite of who we are, what we have done or how far away we are from God, transformation and healing can happen at any moment.
That evening Matthew had a large dinner party. The Pharisees were upset because it did not follow the Jewish laws of ritual impurity. "I desire mercy, not sacrifice" was the reply of Jesus to the Pharisees.
Matthew's Gospel is a gospel of mercy. Jesus saw Matthew with love, mercy and compassion. He saw him for his potential. The Pharisees continued to judge and condemn. The tax collectors knew they were sinners, the Pharisees did not. God meets us first and is constantly transforming us..
Jesus looks at us daily and calls us to follow. We are all sinners who trust in the infinite love, mercy and patience of God.
Pope Francis had his calling to become a priest on the feast day of St Matthew
God Bless You
(1) Saint Matthew: Lessons in Love, kindle, Wyatt North