In place of the usual readings for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, we celebrate the saint for whom both our Parish and one of the Gospels is named – a former tax collector named Matthew.
Tax collectors of Jesus’ day were despised for serving the Romans, and making themselves wealthy at the expense of their neighbors (they could collect as much over the Roman levy as they could get out of the people). They were considered unclean, cursed by God, and unwelcome in any synagogue or faithful Jewish home or gathering.
Jesus sees Matthew and invites him into the intimate relationship of a disciple! In respect to traditional Jewish culture, this meant that Matthew gave up his tax collection career and association with Rome – a form of repentance or change of life. Matthew gets up and changes his life forever. The difference between Jesus and the Pharisees who criticize this action is one of perspective: Jesus expresses the heart of God in taking the initiative to seek the lost and cleanse the unclean.
In this way Jesus restores Matthew to his own faith as a Jew, as expressed in Proverbs as the call to trust the Lord and keep the commandments throughout one’s life. One who was lost to God has been found and restored to this faithfulness.
Paul’s letter to Timothy echoes the call of Proverbs to honor the teachings of our childhood. Particularly, he lifts up scripture (at that point in time referring to the scriptures of Israel since the New Testament was not yet formed) as inspired by God and useful to train and equip us for the life of faith in Christ Jesus (understood by Paul as the Jewish Messiah).
Comment: In the call of Matthew we see the heart of God in Jesus, who seeks out a man who has turned his life away from God. Matthew must have been amazed by the invitation of a Rabbi to become a disciple. At a deep level it seems Matthew was waiting for such an escape from his current life, and he goes on to become the source of the first Gospel in the Christian Bible. Change the name and profession, and the call to Matthew is the call to you and me to get up and follow Jesus. I am so grateful for the ways in which I have heard and followed Jesus! I am also aware of the ways in which I still cling to my old methods and have held back from my Lord’s call. Every day, Jesus calls me to leave behind my “tax collecting” ways – those places where I am holding out on God.