|The Calling of St. Matthew by Carravaggio|
NB: This weekend, we are celebrating as an external solemnity (a solemnity moved to Sunday) the feast of Saint Matthew, the patron of the parish church. The readings are from the feast day.
It is wonderful to celebrate the feast of the patron of our church, Saint Matthew, today. Every church has a saint who is named the patron of that church. We are blessed to have two: the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Matthew! A patron saint is given to each church so that we may have someone in heaven to pray for us, but also as a specific model for the community to imitate in our own journey of faith and holiness. It is a great gift of God that we have been given both Our Lady, who is immaculate, and Saint Matthew, who was a great sinner, to show us the wideness of God’s mercy upon His people.
For we here in our Gospel today how it is that Matthew was called by Jesus to salvation from the path of sin he had been travelling before. Matthew was a publican or a tax collector. In those days, a tax collector was far more ruthless than any IRS agent you’ve ever known! They were considered by the Jews agents of Roman oppression and overall scum because of the shady ways they would oftentimes take the tax money from the people. To be a tax collector in the days of Matthew and of Jesus was considered beyond hopeless for the individual.
Yet Jesus never abandons this hopeless one to what is considered to be his condemnation. As we hear in the Gospel, Jesus walks up to where Matthew is working and asks Matthew to follow Him. We can be certain that Matthew has heard about this Jesus wandering about the countryside preaching and healing and working miracles. Yet perhaps he felt that this was not for him. Jesus, however, does not restrain Himself from going to meet this tax collector and personally calling him to follow He who was sent to heal us, as the Gospel account concludes.
When the Pharisees see this and see Jesus sitting with those like Matthew, those who are considered hopeless or shameful, Christ reveals Himself to be the divine Physician who desires to heal the heart of every human being. Every human being enters this world with the effects of original sin upon their soul and which keeps them separate from God, as any disease keeps one separate from the healthy. Jesus comes into this world so as to remove these effects and heal every soul so that the soul is restored to health and restored to God. Yet only those who acknowledge that they are sick and in need of healing are able to be healed.
In this Gospel we see the dangers of self-righteousness in the behavior of the Pharisees. The Pharisees believe that they are good because they observe the law most completely, down to the very least word. They fast, they wash themselves to remain pure, they abstain from certain foods, they observe all the feasts and sacrifices commanded by God in the Mosaic law. Those who do not do this, like Matthew, are relegated to the status of the condemned by these Pharisees. But this is not the attitude that Christ brings in His preaching.
We hear Jesus repeat the words of the prophet Hosea, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” This does not mean that the works of the Law as observed by the Pharisees are without merit, but that there must be a specific mindset behind one’s actions in order that they may be truly pleasing to God. This is the worldview of mercy as seen from the Cross. Jesus Christ indeed offers the one perfect sacrifice on the Cross, the most pleasing action and work done by any human being, but He does it as an action pouring out of the mercy of God. He does it because He wishes for humanity to be forgiven.
It is in the mercy of Christ poured out from the Cross that we are healed. But we must be open to that healing, and we must live in the light of that mercy, mindful that it is only because God has shown mercy upon us that we are able to do good and be good. We must, in fact, acknowledge that we are not righteous, but that we are sinners. Only when we are humble enough to accept that fact can we then begin to receive Christ’s healing mercy, and we can maintain that healing only as long as we remember that we are sinners in need of mercy, both ourselves and those around us.
But behold what this mercy is able to accomplish! Matthew was one of the lowest and most despised of people as a tax collector. After encountering Christ, after receiving His mercy and following Him, Matthew becomes one of the Apostles, spreading this message of mercy throughout the world, even recording it in his gospel account. How many have been touched by Matthew’s words which recount to us the mercy of Christ. Today, Matthew is held up for us as a model of true contrition, true righteousness, and true humility.
Let us pray to our patron this day that we may acknowledge our sinfulness, but also acknowledge the mercy of God. Let us begin to act not in self-righteousness, but in the light of mercy. Let us seek to receive God’s mercy as frequently as possible in coming to the sacraments of mercy regularly. Let us live out this mercy in all of our actions, even the smallest actions. Let us strive to be like our patron Saint Matthew in proclaiming the Gospel to all whom we meet, so that all may come to know of this mercy and receive this gift of God, this gift which will bear ultimate fruit in the glories of eternal life.