“Jesus saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office, and he said to him: Follow me…”
Today is the Feast of St. Matthew the Evangelist who wrote the most Jewish Gospel and was martyred for Christ.
Here is something I wrote a few years ago because the account of St. Matthew’s conversion really grabbed my attention. I added to it with quotes from St. Bede (8th C. homily).
Several things strike me in today’s Gospel from Matthew himself. Jesus passes by Matthew or Levi, a tax collector, a sinner. Tax collectors were particularly despised in Palestine because they tended to collect more money than they were appointed so that they could fill up their pockets.
“[Jesus] saw the tax collector and, because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him, he said to him: Follow me. This following meant imitating the pattern of his life – not just walking after him. St. John tells us: Whoever says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
“Follow me” Jesus calls. Matthew doesn’t deliberate, no questions or anything… he just gets up and follows Him.
And he rose and followed him. There is no reason for surprise that the tax collector abandoned earthly wealth as soon as the Lord commanded him. Nor should one be amazed that neglecting his wealth, he joined a band of men whose leader had, on Matthew’s assessment, no riches at all. Our Lord summoned Matthew by speaking to him in words. By an invisible, interior impulse flooding his mind with the light of grace, he instructed him to walk in his footsteps. In this way Matthew could understand that Christ, who was summoning him away from earthly possessions, had incorruptible treasures of heaven in his gift.
The RSV renders “And he got up and followed him” as “And he [b]rose[/b] and followed Him.” Resurrection theme is everywhere in the Gospels–many times when Jesus heals somebody. In fact, right before the call of Matthew, Jesus forgives the paralytic and heals him commanding “rise!”
His encounter with the Light transformed Matthew. He left everything behind and followed Jesus. Matthew dies to his former self and he rises in Christ. Then he does the most logical thing: he throws a party celebrating his new life in Christ and invites all of his tax collector friends! “I want you all to meet the One who changed my life!”
To see a deeper understanding of the great celebration Matthew held at his house, we must realise that he not only gave a banquet for the Lord at his earthly residence, but far more pleasing was the banquet set in his own heart which he provided through faith and love. Our Savior attests to this: Behold I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
“Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…” – Heb. 3:15
On hearing Christ’s voice, we open the door to receive him, as it were, when we freely assent to his promptings and when we give ourselves over to doing what must be done. Christ, since he dwells in the hearts of his chosen ones through the grace of his love, enters so that he might eat with us and we with him. He ever refreshes us by the light of his presence insofar as we progress in our devotion to and longing for the things of heaven. He himself is delighted by such a pleasing banquet.
Like Levi let us rise and leave everything that hinders us from following Jesus!