Feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle and evangelist
Art: The Calling of Matthew, the tax collector, by Arnold Houbraken
Reading 1 EPH 4:1-7, 11-13
I, a prisoner for the Lord,
urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit
through the bond of peace:
one Body and one Spirit,
as you were also called to the one hope of your call;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all.But grace was given to each of us
according to the measure of Christ’s gift.And he gave some as Apostles, others as prophets,
others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers,
to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry,
for building up the Body of Christ,
until we all attain to the unity of faith
and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,
to the extent of the full stature of Christ.
Responsorial Psalm PS 19:2-3, 4-5
The heavens declare the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day pours out the word to day,
and night to night imparts knowledge.
R. Their message goes out through all the earth.
Not a word nor a discourse
whose voice is not heard;
Through all the earth their voice resounds,
and to the ends of the world, their message.
R. Their message goes out through all the earth.
Alleluia – See Te Deum
We praise you, O God,
we acclaim you as Lord;
the glorious company of Apostles praise you.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel MT 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.”
The Good Samaritan By Walter Rane
“Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you”
Jesus urges us to discover the wisdom and the principles underlying the laws … and He asks us to live by these principles in all our affairs.
Matthew 9:9-13 From Living Space
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 that they should be treated “as a Gentile or a tax collector”. 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 the 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 do not need a doctor, only the sick do.” 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: “I desire compassion and not sacrifice.” 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.
Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
21 SEPTEMBER 2016, Wednesday, St Matthew, Apostle
MERCY BRINGS GOOD OUT OF EVIL
Today, when we celebrate the Feast of St Matthew, we celebrate the mercy of God in Christ, a mercy that gives hope to those who are deemed useless and hopeless in the eyes of the world. One can imagine how touched and moved St Matthew was to be called by the Lord to be His apostle. In the eyes of his contemporaries he was considered an outcast, a sinner, a traitor of the Jews and most of all, a swindler and cheat. As a tax collector, he was hated by the people. No one in his time would want to be associated with such a person, lest one gets contaminated ritually by mixing with him. Indeed, that was how the scribes and the Pharisees viewed him. It was unthinkable for a supposedly holy man like Jesus to be seen in his company. Hence, “when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?’”
What, then, is the answer to the question of Jesus fellowshipping with sinners and tax-collectors? The response of Jesus was swift and sharp. He said, “It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. Go 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.” Jesus reckoned Himself as a doctor. The vocation of a doctor is to give life and to give hope to the sick. His task is to restore a person to health so that he can live again. In the same way, Jesus came to give hope to us all, especially those who consider themselves outside the ambit of God’s love and mercy. So, like all doctors, He came principally for the sick whilst keeping the strong healthy.
But how could He give life to those condemned as ‘outcasts’ by society? Again, like the doctor, Jesus needed to approach the sick directly and personally. What kind of doctor would He be if He were to stay away from the illness of the patients? It is the task of the doctor to attend to the patients directly and diagnose their illness. So if Jesus were to offer life to sinners, it was necessary for Him to go in their midst. If the scribes and Pharisees really had mercy for the sinners, they would not have stayed away from them. They showed their selfishness in wanting to save themselves rather than those who were in need of God. Indeed, we remember how many doctors gave up their lives to save those infected by SARS many years ago when Singapore went through the terrifying epidemic in our history. So, too, Jesus the divine physician came to be with the sinners in order that He might feel with them, hear them out and be the light of God’s mercy to them.
Secondly, a good doctor is one who always has hope of a cure. If a doctor begins his job with a sense of hopelessness, he would never be able to go far except to prepare a person for death. But a doctor, even though he is aware of his limitations, must also live with hope of finding a cure. He would try all means possible to cure the patient. If the procedure cannot work or the medication is not effective, he would resort to other methods and medication till the patient recovers. This was the attitude of Jesus towards those who were incorrigible. The world thought that besides prostitutes, tax collectors particularly had no hope in the eyes of God. They would surely be condemned to hell. But Jesus never saw sinners as people who had no hope. In fact, He saw in Matthew the ingredients of a good apostle-to-be. When we are merciful, we see the wicked person with hope and confidence; we see much goodness even in the difficult person whom the world has given up hope on. Jesus had the gift to see the goodness and the sincerity hidden in Matthew despite the shady trade he was engaged in.
Indeed, when we see the goodness in the apparently evil person, we will help the person to begin the process of healing. So when Jesus called Matthew, it was not a sudden response. We can be sure that Matthew would have heard about Jesus or even heard Him teaching. His heart was already open but he did not feel worthy to take another step. He deemed himself to be an outcast and was certain that he would be rejected. But lo and behold, Jesus read his heart, a heart that was filled with emptiness, loneliness and bereft of joy. This is true in daily life, especially with difficult colleagues or students who do not perform. We need the eyes of mercy to see the potential goodness and the hidden virtues in the person.
Thirdly, Jesus helped Matthew to find his true vocation in life. Only when we find our vocation can we truly live meaningfully in life. Those who live only for their career cannot find real happiness and meaning. Success is empty when what we do only brings in money but not life and love. Following Christ does not mean that we have to give up our career or what we like to do. Rather, it is more about changing the motives than changing our circumstances. Conversion is not about giving up one’s talents but rather to use them in the right way. Jesus therefore encouraged St Matthew, who was probably one of the few educated ones in His band, to use his knowledge and writing skills to proclaim the gospel. St Matthew did not have to give up all his knowledge and training but he could now use it for the service of the gospel. So with St Matthew, instead of having a career that was directed at enriching himself, he changed his career and sought a vocation. He now used his talents for the service of God and the gospel. A career is about advancing oneself but a vocation is always for the service of God and humanity. So from that day onwards, Matthew used all his resources for the glory of God.
Fourthly, a good doctor’s only desire is to help, to heal and to console. We must avoid following the negative attitude of the scribes and Pharisees. All they knew was to criticize Jesus and condemn the sinners. Instead of seeking a solution to bring them back to God, they stayed away from them. True doctors only think about how to help and relieve pain when they see their patients suffer. They do not stand around and lecture their patients for getting into trouble or falling sick. So when we see people suffering or someone who has made a mistake in life, we do not keep on scolding the person and putting that person down. Rather, our task is to lift them up through gentle correction, enlightenment and encouragement. We should seek to help and not to condemn those who are already down and out.
Finally, a good doctor of mercy not only has hope but will transform all obstacles into learning curves so as to be a better doctor. All good doctors see obstacles as opportunities for learning. There are many things we learn through trial and error. We all learn from mistakes. That is why in every hospital there must always be case studies to see how we can learn from mistakes and new experiments and initiatives. So too with Jesus; He saw Matthew as a great opportunity, not just to save, but to be put to use in reaching out to those whom Jesus would have found difficult to reach. Being a convert and a former tax collector, Matthew was well placed to help Jesus make inroads with those who were ‘unreachable’. We can be sure that with Matthew’s conversion, many other tax collectors, seeing him living a much happier and liberated life, would have also come to Jesus.
Today as we celebrate the feast of St Matthew, let us never give up hope on those who are difficult, those who seem to be failures in life and the ‘incorrigibles’. Before we write them off, let us remember that for Jesus, nothing is impossible. We must continue to hope that God will give them the grace to be touched by His word and be transformed. All of us are called to this same hope. “There is one Body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope when you were called.” To give up hope on them is to be lacking in mercy. Look at them with eyes of mercy and they will find hope in themselves.
Let us help others as St Paul urged us; to live a life worthy of our vocation. We are called to use our talents to help build up the Church and to build up the individual. “Each one of us, however, has been given his own share of grace, given as Christ allotted it. … so that the saints together make a unit in the work of service, building up the body of Christ. In this way we are all to come to unity in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God, until we become the perfect Man, fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself.” Let us follow the example of St Matthew and St Paul who gave up their lives for others after having been transformed, loved and forgiven by Christ. Let everything we do in life be done for the good of humanity and the glory of God.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”, brought back to the Shepherd, centurion, diversity, do not be afraid, EPH 4:1-7 11-13, forgiveness, heavens declare the glory of God, humility, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, Jesus Talks With a Samaritan Woman at the well, Jesus-way, John 4, judge not lest Ye be judged, let him who is without sin cast the first stone, Matthew was a tax collector, outcasts, paralytics, pride, Prodigal Son, prostitutes, Psalm 19, Saint Matthew, September 21 2015,spiritual, spirituality, St. Matthew, tax collectors, Their message goes out through all the earth, unclean, Way of the Cross, who among you will cast the first stone
Tags: “Te Deum”, Catholic Mass, EPH 4:1-7 11-13, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post, heavens declare the glory of God, judge not lest Ye be judged, Lord I am nor worth to have you come under my roof, Matthew the collector of customs, Matthew the customs agent, Matthew the tax collector, Mt 9:9-13, Prayer and Meditation, Psalm 19, Saint Matthew, September 21 2016, St. Matthew, the firmament proclaims his handiwork, The grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift, who among you will cast the first stone