21 September 2010 Feast of St. Matthew, apostle and evangelist
Ephesians 4: 1-7,11-13; Psalm 19; Matthew 9, 9-13
Let me summarize what I want to say in one brief statement: We are sinners yet called to follow Jesus. I have three points that correspond to all the readings today including the readings from the breviary’s Morning Prayer.
First, we are sinners. St. Matthew, whose feast we celebrate today, is a sinner. During his time, tax collectors were considered heartless towards their fellow Jews. He was pro-government, thus a supporter of Rome. He collected taxes and we could also imagine how much he got from it. Our present-day experience of our taxes going to some other pockets have been existing generations ago. In those days, tax collectors were suspect to many pious Jews on the grounds of their collaboration with Roman officials and their practice of extorting more than what was owed to the government.
And thus, dining with tax collectors and sinners scandalized many Pharisees for whom ritual purity and table fellowship were important religious practices. But the gesture of Jesus paved the way for acceptance of all kinds of people into the Church.
Second, yet we are called. The Greek word for a call, kadeiv, refers to the host’s invitation to a guest for dinner. And thus we are called by the Lord to a table fellowship; a community of ‘sinful people’ who strive to mend their ways. Jesus says he came not for the righteous but for those who are sick. He came to call sinners to conversion of heart. We are asked therefore to celebrate our renewed status in the eyes of God. In the morning prayer, the reading is taken from the Ephesians which articulates this status: “You are strangers and aliens no longer. No, you are fellow citizens of the saints and members of the household of God. You form a building which rises on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone… In him you are being built into this temple, to become a dwelling place for God in the Spirit.”
Third, to follow Jesus. We are invited to become his disciples. Psalm 19, the responsorial psalm in the liturgy today tells us that our primary task is to evangelize: to share and proclaim the Good News by “helping build the Body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to the extent of the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4). The unity is marked by a community at peace. All are “one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4, 4-7)
How? The letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians states that God endowed us with distinct gifts. He gave some as “apostles, others as prophets, as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry.” This means that we will be able to know our roles in building the community of God from the gifts and abilities that we have. By discovering our place in the whole vineyard of God, we will also encounter the uniqueness and distinction of our identity. There is always a place and a distinct work for each person. Thus, we are not to compete, but we are to complement each other, build each other up, until we are able to come to the full stature of Christ.
And so just as St. Matthew’s past was dark and sinful, the last say in our lives is not our sinfulness, but how we respond to God’s call to follow him. The best thing is this: God does not ask us to do what is beyond our capacities. On the contrary, we are invited by God just to look into our own treasure chest and discover that we have more than what it takes to contribute to the task of evangelization and rebuilding communities.
Matthew worked ‘outside of the Jewish circle’ as a tax collector. But he ended up serving a “Christian-Jewish community.” The change is remarkable. And so is the One who made it possible.