A reflection about an apostle, evangelist, and sinner— Saint Matthew—whose feast day we celebrate on September 21, will inspire a reader to see why I love Matthew.
I love Matthew, the apostle, because he was a sinner. I love him because he was open to grace. It is also because the true message of salvation is manifest in him, and in his call to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. He is an authentic disciple of the Lord.
Matthew does not seek the Lord Jesus out. Jesus searches for him. The Lord offers the publican grace opportunity and relationship while at his workplace—the customs duty post in the tax office. He was at his duty post doing what he knew how. There the Lord meets him, and he in return embraces the invitation.
Matthew Does Not Hesitate
Matthew, the young man from Galilee, does not hesitate to leave behind the easy money of a tax collection post—arguably, money-minting business at the time. He chooses instead to follow the itinerant preacher of Nazareth. I love him because of his simple devotion and trust in divine invitation. I love him because he sees salvation as more important than economic gains. Neither financial gain nor public rejection of his identity stops him from the divine encounter.
As a Jew, it must have been a difficult life to be a tax collector. The public labels him a public sinner. He is classified with the gentiles—those they consider condemned to hell. Maybe this opens him for a prompt response to divine invitation. He knows he is a public, condemned sinner. He knows everyone has judged him doomed for life. Yet, he sees there is one person who has extended a hand of grace to him—Jesus. Thus, he does not hesitate. He knows Grace when He comes, calling.
Notice that those who are aware of their weaknesses are more disposed to divine invitation. They are the ones who celebrate it and make a feast of their conversion. They greatly appreciate grace because a heavy burden, too much to bear, is lifted from their hearts.
Matthew Shows Gratitude
We read that Matthew hosts Jesus and numerous other public sinners in his house. The holier-than-though guests criticize this gesture too. They consider it inappropriate and sinful to share a table with sinners, at least public sinners. They reject divine visitation because it seems to seek and find the sinner. What an irony.
Religion—true faith for that matter—lifts us from our brokenness. It does not make us prisoners of it. On the contrary, it elevates our soul and spirit unto the true God. It does not pull us down to the hades. But, unfortunately, the critics fail woefully to see this.
In this instance, the Lord is showing us something more profound. It’s refreshing too. Sinners are his best friends. He came for sinners. Every day, he passes by for them. We notice, see him, embrace him, and heal. We are renewed when we are at the table with him, the bread of life. Salvation is assured too.
Jesus Testifies about Matthew and Sinners
Hear the Lord’s response to his critics: “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” (Mt 9:12-13).
It’s eye-opening that of all the apostles, only Matthew prioritizes writing a Gospel, proving to his fellow brothers and sisters that Jesus is the Messiah. The Gospel of Matthew is written primarily to the Jews. The outcast sinner has become the community’s foremost activist of a cause. He becomes the preacher of grace. It’s no surprise he is called the evangelist.
Christ heals Matthew. His identity is restored. Matthew is bold and strong. He bears witness with remarkable courage. He finds a new joy—the joy of the Lord.
Evangelist Matthew finds Christ and finds himself. I glean that we find ourselves and get a deeper insight into our spiritual being when we encounter God. In the Lord, our identity blossoms.
I pray that through Saint Matthew’s life and calling, we (sinners) may discover the true joy of responding to the call of Grace. In the process, we discover the richness of our being. Amen.
Saint Matthew, Apostle and the Evangelist, pray for us. Amen