Jews would usually turn away when they passed the customs place where Matthew, the tax-collector, was sitting. But
“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.”
To celebrate their new friendship, Matthew invited Jesus to a banquet at his house with his friends – other tax collectors like himself – and Jesus came with some of his disciples. They were criticized immediately for breaking one of Capernaum’s social codes. “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus’ answer was quick: “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.”
Hardly anything is known of Matthew’s part in Jesus’ later ministry, yet surely the tradition must be correct that says he recorded much of what Jesus said and did. A tax-collector would be good at keeping books; did Matthew keep memories? Are there some things that happened that were especially related to him?
The gospels say that wherever Jesus went he was welcomed by tax collectors. When he entered Jericho, Zachaeus, the chief tax collector of the city, climbed a tree to see him pass, since the crowds were so great. Did Matthew point out to Jesus the man in the tree, a tax collector like himself, and then bring them all to Zachaeus’ house, where Jesus left his blessing of salvation? And did tax collectors in other towns come to Jesus because they recognized one of their own among his companions?
Probably so. Jesus always looked kindly on outsiders like Matthew who were targets of so much suspicion and resentment. True, they belonged to a compromised profession tainted by greed, dishonesty and bribery. Their dealings were not always according to the fine line of right or wrong.
But still, they were children of God and, like lost sheep, Jesus would not let them be lost.
It’s interesting to note that Pope Francis told a group of bishops recently that he got his vocation to be a priest on the Feast of St. Matthew 60 years ago, when he went to confession and heard God’s call, a call of mercy.