For those of us who strive to live as disciples, today’s feast is really a joy. I say that because Matthew was qualified to be a disciple of Jesus in much the same way that we are qualified to be disciples of Jesus – which is to say, not at all, really. Matthew was a tax collector, working for the Roman occupation government. His task was to collect the tax from each citizen. As long as he did that, whatever he collected over and above the tax was his to keep. Now the Romans wouldn’t condone outright extortion, but let’s just say that they weren’t overly scrupulous about what their tax collectors were collecting, as long as they got paid the proper tax.
So Matthew’s reception among the Jews was quite like they might receive a swarm of murder hornets! The Pharisees were quick to lump men like Matthew with sinners, and despised them as completely unworthy of God’s salvation. But Jesus disagreed.
“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.”
Which brings us back to us. We should be very grateful to celebrate the call of a man who was anything but worthy. Because he was called, we know that our own calls are authentic, unworthy as we may be. Because he was offered healing, we know that we can have that, too. But all that grace isn’t ours any more than it was just Matthew’s: just as he spread the Good News by writing and preaching of the Gospel, so we are called to spread the Good News to everyone we know. We are called to write the Gospel in our own day, in the pages of our own lives. Matthew’s call is a day of celebration for all of us sinners, who are nonetheless called to do great things for the Kingdom of God.