Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of St. Matthew, one of the four Evangelists. Our Gospel reading for the day is his account of Jesus’ call to him.
This passage from Matthew is one that I have prayed with frequently, both on retreat and in my own daily prayer. I have often been struck both by the personal nature of Jesus’ call to Matthew – a call echoed to each of us – and by Matthew’s response – his ability and willingness to drop everything and follow Jesus. I both cherish the sense that God calls each of us – not just those who seem holy or special, but each and every one of us – and I pray to have Matthew’s ability to leave everything to follow Jesus. So simple: “He got up and followed him.”
After calling Matthew, Jesus joins him at his home for a meal, which the Pharisees find objectionable. How can Jesus eat with tax collectors and sinners? Jesus responds: “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.”
With Jesus, no one gets written off. No one is unclean and gets left out or put aside. Jesus looks at Matthew the tax collector, and says, this is one of those who I call, who I invite to follow me. And His statement that He desires mercy, not sacrifice, says to the Pharisees: and this one that I have called is one of those to whom you are to have mercy, to whom you are to relate with love.
This is a message Jesus repeats over and over again – when he asks the Samaritan woman to give him a drink of water; when he allows the woman who has sinned to wash his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair; when he invites Zaccheus, who has cheated so many people, to come down from the tree because Jesus wants to go to his house for dinner; when he promises the thief, as he hangs suffering on the cross, that he will join him this day in Paradise. Over and over Jesus says: these are among those I have called, and as I have loved each of these, so should you.