Tag Archives: Matthew

Matthew, the tax collector


Jews  usually turned 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 was good at keeping books; did Matthew keep memories? Did he remember some things that were especially related his world?

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 the man in the tree to Jesus, a tax collector like himself who brought them all to his 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 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, when he went to confession and heard God’s call, a call of mercy.

Tuesday: 2nd week of Advent

 

“Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end.” The tender  words of Isaiah in today’s reading end with this promise: ” Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.” (Isaiah 40,1-11)

“I am the Good Shepherd,”Jesus says

A few years ago Carol Rothstein took the picture above of shepherds in the Jordan Valley along  the road to Jericho . Jesus and his followers likely traveled this same road on their way to Jerusalem and surely passed  a scene like this. Would he have told them the story of the Good Shepherd then?

The mountains in the distance make the picture so interesting.  Can you imagine a shepherd taking off in search of one of his flock lost in those distant hills? What an effort it would be! An impossible task! The wondrous merciful love of God for each of us is like that, our gospel today says.

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray,

will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills

and go in search of the stray?

And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it

than over the ninety-nine that did not stray.

In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father

that one of these little ones be lost.” (Matthew)

That’s a story of God’s mercy. Ending his earthly journey, Jesus will reach out to a thief who’s lost as he turns to the thief on the Cross and brings him to Paradise.

Handel put to music this powerful theme:

The Pope in Cuba

If you want to know what Pope Francis is doing in Cuba, read this homily he gave there yesterday:

We are celebrating the feast of the apostle and evangelist Saint Matthew. We are celebrating the story of a conversion. Matthew himself, in his Gospel, tell us what it was like, this encounter which changed his life. He shows us an “exchange of glances” capable of changing history.

On a day like any other, as Matthew, the tax collector, was seated at his table, Jesus passed by, saw him, came up to him and said: “Follow me”. Matthew got up and followed him.

Jesus looked at him. How strong was the love in that look of Jesus, which moved Matthew to do what he did! What power must have been in his eyes to make Matthew get up from his table! We know that Matthew was a publican: he collected taxes from the Jews to give to the Romans. Publicans were looked down upon and considered sinners; as such, they lived apart and were despised by others. One could hardly eat, speak or pray with the likes of these. For the people, they were traitors: they extorted from their own to give to others. Publicans belonged to this social class.

Jesus, on the other hand, stopped; he did not quickly take his distance. He looked at Matthew calmly, peacefully. He looked at him with eyes of mercy; he looked at him as no one had ever looked at him before. And this look unlocked Matthew’s heart; it set him free, it healed him, it gave him hope, a new life, as it did to Zacchaeus, to Bartimaeus, to Mary Magdalen, to Peter, and to each of us. Even if we do not dare raise our eyes to the Lord, he looks at us first. This is our story, and it is like that of so many others. Each of us can say: “I, too, am a sinner, whom Jesus has looked upon”. I ask you, in your homes or in the Church, to be still for a moment and to recall with gratitude and happiness those situations, that moment, when the merciful gaze of God was felt in our lives.

Jesus’ love goes before us, his look anticipates our needs. He can see beyond appearances, beyond sin, beyond failures and unworthiness. He sees beyond our rank in society. He sees beyond this, to our dignity as sons and daughters, a dignity at times sullied by sin, but one which endures in the depth of our soul. He came precisely to seek out all those who feel unworthy of God, unworthy of others. Let us allow Jesus to look at us. Let us allow his gaze to run over our streets. Let us allow that look to become our joy, our hope.

After the Lord looked upon him with mercy, he said to Matthew: “Follow me.” Matthew got up and followed him. After the look, a word. After love, the mission. Matthew is no longer the same; he is changed inside. The encounter with Jesus and his loving mercy has transformed him. He leaves behind his table, his money, his exclusion. Before, he had sat waiting to collect his taxes, to take from others; now, with Jesus he must get up and give, give himself to others. Jesus looks at him and Matthew encounters the joy of service. For Matthew and for all who have felt the gaze of Jesus, other people are no longer to be “lived off”, used and abused. The gaze of Jesus gives rise to missionary activity, service, self-giving. Jesus’ love heals our short-sightedness and pushes us to look beyond, not to be satisfied with appearances or with what is politically correct.

Jesus goes before us, he precedes us; he opens the way and invites us to follow him. He invites us slowly to overcome our preconceptions and our reluctance to think that others, much less ourselves, can change. He challenges us daily with the question: “Do you believe? Do you believe it is possible that a tax collector can become a servant? Do you believe it is possible that a traitor can become a friend? Do you believe is possible that the son of a carpenter can be the Son of God?” His gaze transforms our way of seeing things, his heart transforms our hearts. God is a Father who seeks the salvation of each of his sons and daughters.

Let us gaze upon the Lord in prayer, in the Eucharist, in Confession, in our brothers and sisters, especially those who feel excluded or abandoned. May we learn to see them as Jesus sees us. Let us share his tenderness and mercy with the sick, prisoners, the elderly and families in difficulty. Again and again we are called to learn from Jesus, who always sees what is most authentic in every person, which is the image of his Father.

I know the efforts and the sacrifices being made by the Church in Cuba to bring Christ’s word and presence to all, even in the most remote areas. Here I would mention especially the “mission houses” which, given the shortage of churches and priests, provide for many people a place for prayer, for listening to the word of God, for catechesis and community life. They are small signs of God’s presence in our neighborhoods and a daily aid in our effort to respond to the plea of the apostle Paul: “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (cf. Eph 4:1-3).

I now turn my eyes to the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, whom Cuba embraced and to whom it opened its doors forever. I ask Our Lady to look with maternal love on all her children in this noble country. May her “eyes of mercy” ever keep watch over each of you, your homes, your families, and all those who feel that they have no place. In her love, may she protect us all as she once cared for Jesus.

Following Jesus through the Lenten Gospels

Don’t forget we’re following Jesus through lent and the lenten gospels are our guides. During the first weeks we read from the gospel of Matthew, a favorite of the early church, which took us to the mountain in Galilee where Jesus at the beginning of his ministry taught his followers that they are children of God, how to pray, how to forgive, how to live together.

We follow Jesus our teacher.

Today’s gospel is from Luke’s account of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem.(Lk 11,14-23) Gathering disciples to accompany him, he teaches them through parables and performs miracles, like healing the man who is mute. Driving out the demon who holds the man makes it more than a physical healing; the miracle is a sign that the kingdom of God has come. The Evil One is powerless before Jesus.

The miracles signify that Jesus is the Messiah. When he heard about them, John the Baptist asked, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus replied they were indeed a sign he was the expected Messiah:

“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” (Luke 7,18-23)

Jesus is the Messiah.

Next week, the 4th week of Lent, we begin the gospel of John, which take us to Jerusalem where Jesus performs great signs, like the healing of the paralytic and the raising of Lazarus from the dead, but he also engages in extensive arguments about his identity with the Jewish leaders in the temple area.

Jesus is the Son of God.

All that we learn of him leads to the mystery of his cross and resurrection.
There he is our teacher, our Messiah, our Lord.

Lording It Over Others

The nineteenth century British historian Lord Acton once said, ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. ” He was speaking about the tendency in all societies for those in power to use it for themselves and their own aims.

Jesus’ words to his disciples describe the Jewish power structure of his day. The original readers of Matthew’s Gospel, probably written in Palestine or Syria towards the end of the first century, knew well the Jewish communities around them. They would see abuses of power in them, but more importantly would they see it in their own church and in themselves too?

Abuse of power is usually there no matter what society, secular or religious, you consider, and it’s found on many levels. We think of people in high positions in government and business abusing power, but what about ordinary people like ourselves? We have ways for “lording it over others” too.

Lord,

it’s easy to see the faults of others,

and call them to account.

Harder to see faults in ourselves;

and recognize the wrong we do.

Give me grace to do that hard thing–

To know myself

and ask for the grace to repent