Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist – Readings

Commentary on Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13; Psalm 18; Matthew 9:9-13

The Gospel reading tells Matthew’s version of Jesus calling a tax-collector to be a disciple. Tax collectors have a very poor reputation in the Gospel. They are numbered among the groups of outcasts with whom no decent person would have any contact. In Palestine, most of them would have been Jews, employed by the Roman colonial power to collect taxes from their own people. Roman citizens did not have to pay taxes; only the conquered peoples had to do this.

So they were seen both as renegades and traitors, and also as people who were in gross violation of their Jewish faith in working for Gentiles in this way. Even Jesus, when speaking of members of the Christian community who refuse to change their sinful ways in spite of every effort made to help them reform, said:

…let such a one be to you as a gentile and a tax collector. (Matt 18:17)

The Jewish tax collector was put on the same level as a Gentile, a person with whom no self-respecting Jew would have any relationship.

And here, in today’s reading, we see Jesus inviting such a person to be his disciple! This tells us a number of things about Jesus. It means that he does not look at stereotypes. He does not say, “He is a tax collector, so he must be a very sinful person with whom I should have no contact.” No, he looks at the person and sees the potential there. And in Matthew he sees the potential for him to be one of his followers and indeed one of his apostles, on whom the continuation of Jesus’ mission will depend. For Jesus, our past is not very important. What counts is where we are now and where we can be in the future.

After Jesus says to Matthew, “Follow me”, the tax collector gets up and goes after Jesus, leaving all the paraphernalia of his occupation behind him. It is very similar to Peter, Andrew, James and John leaving their boats, their nets and even their family to go with Jesus. It is an unconditional and total following.

Matthew then decides to celebrate his new calling. He invites Jesus and his disciples and also the only friends he has – other sinners and tax collectors. They all sit down together in ‘his’ house. Whose house? It could be the house where Jesus is staying, a house mentioned a number of times in the Gospel and which is a symbol of the Christian community, the place where Jesus gathers with his disciples.

Here, tax collectors and sinners are invited into the house to eat together with Jesus and his followers. This does not indicate that Jesus does not care about their behaviour, but rather that they are being brought under his influence, they are the ‘lost sheep’ being brought back to the Shepherd.

Or it could refer to Matthew’s house. In that case, we see Jesus and his disciples unhesitatingly going into the house of a sinner and accepting his hospitality. Of course, the Pharisees are scandalized:

Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?

As devout followers of the Law, they would never have contact with such people. How can Jesus as a rabbi behave like this?

Jesus answers them very bluntly:

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.

Matthew and his friends are people in need of healing. Jesus is there to give it to them. And he quotes from the prophet Hosea:

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice. (Hosea 6:6)

Jesus and his true followers are measured by their compassion and care of those in real need. They are not measured by their observation of ritual laws.

In fact, says Jesus, he has come with a special interest in the sinner. Genuinely good people do not really need the services of Jesus. They are the sheep who stay with the flock and close to the Shepherd. Jesus is interested in the stray sheep. This reading has many lessons for us living our Christian life today.

The First Reading from the Letter to the Ephesians is a prayer for unity in a Church where there are many different responsibilities. The Church is the Body of the Risen Christ and, like any body, is a unified organism in which each of its parts has a part to play in contributing to the whole. The source of this unity is that there is one Body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.

But unity is not uniformity. Unity is when different elements merge together in perfect harmony. So Paul goes on to say that there are different callings and responsibilities in the community. And he mentions a few of them – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. But there are many others. The purpose of these ministries is to equip the members of the community for the work of service and for building up the Body of Christ. It is a beautiful picture of a Christian community. All deeply united in faith and love, and yet each one serving the community with a different responsibility.

We remember Matthew, of course, as an Apostle and also an Evangelist. It was through these charisms that he contributed to the building up of the Church as the Body of the Risen Christ.

Let each one of us recognise the charism in us by which we can serve and build up the Christian community. Let us work together for greater unity while tolerating and even encouraging diversity so that God’s Word can find fertile root in as many of God’s children as possible.

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