The Outcast

6 July 2007 Friday of the 13th Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 9, 9-13 The Call of Matthew

The Gospel today tells us that a tax collector named, Matthew, was sitting at a tax collection post when Jesus saw and invited him to become his disciple. He did and eventually become one of the Twelve. Tax collectors in those days were not regarded highly: they were social outcasts. First, devout Jews avoided them because they were usually dishonest. Their job had no salary, so they were supposed to make profits by cheating the people whom they collected taxes. Jews who were nationalistic hated them because they were agents of the Roman government, so they have committed two grave sins: they were Jews, and thus betrayed their people by being with the enemy. Thus, tax collectors were social outcasts, and were considered sinners. But the Gospels tell us that Jesus’ love and concern also extended to the outcasts and the sinners. The first point tells us that sinners have a place in the heart of God.

Throughout the Gospels, the mix of Jesus disciples was unusual. You see, Rabbis chose their disciples from different places, with different backgrounds. Take for example Simon, the Zealot, also a member of the Twelve. Our historian, Josephus, tells us that Zealots were fanatical nationalists, much like our NPAs. The Zealots would like to drive out the Romans by guerrilla tactics, ambushes, assassinations, and terrorist methods. If indeed, that Simon was a Zealots, then his views and his beliefs would crush Matthew. They were on opposite ends of the political spectrum. We only have to stretch our imaginations to see that these two people would have animated and fiery discussions. Maaaring hindi sila nagkasundo. And thus the 2nd point tells us that disagreements and petty quarrels can be expected when people come together. However, with a little stretch of the imagination, we could picture both Matthew and Simon eating together, perhaps side by side. What brought them together was not their differences, but their love for Jesus.

Matthew’s name means, “A Gift from God.” Mark and Luke called him, Levi, perhaps his original name. And Jesus must have changed his name, as He did with Peter. Matthew, however, lived up to his name. They said that he was martyred. Even today, scholars contest the authenticity of the writer in the Gospel of Matthew. In the past, some writings were attributed to another’s inspiration. Whether Matthew was the inspiration behind the writing of the Gospel, or he himself wrote it, is not as important as the realization that Matthew’s life manifested Jesus’ love for sinners. For Catholics, all people, sinner or saint, are saved.

I guess this is what would bring us all together: First, we are asked to become inclusive: the faith is for all sinners. We bring every human being alive in Christ as Matthew the Tax Collector was accepted by God. We come together in worship, whenever and wherever we can, even if there are other people who hate our guts, who might be very divisive and rude. The Gospels tell us straight: There will be misunderstanding among us. But the greatest challenge is when one can put two people, who are exact opposites, side by side, and working pretty well. Matthew made us think that in the everyday life we lead; we get to be more forgiving of each other’s differences or we get to tolerate other people whose style of working is different from ours. We get to do this for the sake of Jesus. This love of Christ has brought Matthew and Simon together… as well as countless others who have been reconciled because of faith.

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