21 September 2006: Feast of St. Matthew the Apostle
Matthew 9, 9-13 Against Discrimination
There are two things to be said about the Feast of St. Matthew, apostle and evangelist.
First, about who he is. St. Matthew, one of the twelve Apostles, is the author of the first Gospel. This has been the constant tradition of the Church and is confirmed by the Gospel itself. He was the son of Alpheus and was called to be an Apostle while sitting in the tax collectors place at Capernaum. Before his conversion he was a publican, i.e., a tax collector by profession. He is to be identified with the “Levi” of Mark and Luke.
Writing for his countrymen of Palestine, St. Matthew composed his Gospel in his native Aramaic, the “Hebrew tongue” mentioned in the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. Soon afterward, about the time of the persecution of Herod Agrippa I in 42 AD, he took his departure for other lands. Another tradition places the composition of his Gospel either between the time of this departure and the Council of Jerusalem, i.e., between 42 AD and 50 AD or even later. Definitely, however, the Gospel, depicting the Holy City with its altar and temple as still existing, and without any reference to the fulfillment of our Lord’s prophecy, shows that it was written before the destruction of the city by the Romans in 70 AD, and this internal evidence confirms the early traditions.
Second, about what we can glean from his life for our life. St. Matthew’s Gospel was written to fill a sorely-felt want for his fellow countrymen, both believers and unbelievers. For the believers, it served as a token of his regard and as an encouragement in the trial to come, especially the danger of falling back to Judaism; for the unbelievers, it was designed to convince them that the Messiah had come in the person of Jesus, our Lord, in Whom all the promises of the Messianic Kingdom embracing all people had been fulfilled in a spiritual rather than in a carnal way: “My Kingdom is not of this world.” His Gospel, then, answered the question put by the disciples of St. John the Baptist, “Are You He Who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
And thus the life of St. Matthew points at certain things about our faith. Before Jesus called him, Matthew was a publican, who was discriminated against by the Jews. As a publican, he worked for the Roman Government. And the Pharisees often would remark to his apostles about Jesus, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus would say, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” And yet, Matthew never took it against the Jews, his Gospel was written for them.
Thus, our faith is against all forms of discrimination. Let me quote from the document, Nostra Aetate, Proclaimed by Pope Paul VI, October 28, 1965:
5. We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God. Man’s relation to God the Father and his relation to men his brothers are so linked together that Scripture says: “He who does not love does not know God” (1 John 4:8). No foundation therefore remains for any theory or practice that leads to discrimination between person and person or people and people, so far as their human dignity and the rights flowing from it are concerned. The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men/women or harassment of them….
As we celebrate the feast of St. Matthew, we look into our hearts: do we discriminate: people of a different color: with whitening lotions flourishing, how do we regard those with darker skin? Do we ostracize other people: people outside of our circle of friends or househelps for example? Do we think that we are far better than them: people of a different religion?; people of a different culture?; people with a different sexual orientation? Do we think we are cleaner or better Catholics than others judged solely by external practice such as appearing pious? Let us reflect on our lives and see the times when we have put ourselves higher than what we truly are.