September 21, Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
The call of Matthew
As Jesus passed on from there, 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.” Mt 9,9-13
It makes always a certain impression on reading the call of Matthew from his own gospel, because you can not avoid to think of the feelings which he has relived in describing an event which has completely disrupted his life. Matthew is sadly sitting at the table of the taxes which he collects on behalf of Rome, keeping a good part for himself. It is a disreputable and dishonest work, hated by the Jewish people and despised by the Romans. Jesus passes by and Matthew would like to disappear because of the shame; Jesus, however, stops and, instead of showing contempt, looks at him and says to him: “Follow me”. Matthew is thunderstruck by that proposal which he just did not expect and, for that spark of greatness which each of us carries within himself, felt that at that moment the opportunity to revitalize his existence in a new dimension, with dignity and perhaps even great, was offered to him. So he gets up, leaves everything and goes with Jesus. Before leaving for the new venture, however, he gives a dinner to greet his friends, publicans as he was, prostitutes, thieves; and he calls also Jesus. He should have thought: “If he deigned to call someone like me, certainly he will be not ashamed to celebrate with them”. In fact, Jesus accepts the invitation and he finds himself at the table with that gay company, of which one can imagine the conversation. Certainly they would have not spoken of the tables of the law and neither of the prophecies of Isaiah. The pharisees are scandalized and ask to the disciples why their teacher attended a dinner with those people. On hearing the question, Jesus answers that he came for the sinners, not for the righteous, as the doctor goes to the sick, not to the healthy. He added: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”. One of my girl students has chosen to engage herself in a work to support the girls of the eastern countries or of the Nigeria, who have been forced into prostitution. While exposing her report on this activity, her eyes became shining, remembering the poems which one of them wrote for her. Listening to it, I was touched me too and I thought of her as a lily which has its roots in the mud but stretching her petals to the sky. We are all of us seeking the light.