Happy feast of St Matthew, apostle and evangelist! There aren’t many instances where Matthew is written about in the scriptures, although he did author the first book in the New Testament. We do know that Matthew was a Jew from Cana, working for the occupying Roman forces as a Tax Collector, later known as “publicans”. As Romans were not concerned about what publicans took as their own cut from an already excessive tax, they were generally despised–second to executioners–by their fellow Jews.
While on the Mediterranean Damascus road along the Sea of Galilee, Jesus first encountered Matthew. Walking by, Jesus saw something in this ‘notorious sinner’, and simply invited him — “follow me.” What happened next was almost as shocking as Jesus asking this outcast to become one of his apostles…Matthew arose, decided to leave everything behind, and followed Him.
Matthew didn’t tell Jesus to hang on, while he left to go and wrap up a few loose ends. And it didn’t say that Jesus sat and talked with him for bit or performed any miracles. It was a simple “call and respond” scenario, and Matthew just got up and followed him. Can you imagine how scandalous it would’ve appeared when Jesus called such a man to follow him, especially by the Pharisees–who would not even sit at the same table as a Tax Collector?
Jesus knew what they the Pharisees were thinking and muttering under their breath. “How could this great teacher associate Himself and His ministry with such an immoral person?”
I love how Jesus responded to their indignation:
“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” (Matthew 9:12b-13).
Jesus recalls the words of the prophet Hosea, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” The Catechism tells us that “outward sacrifice, to be genuine, must be the expression of spiritual sacrifice: ‘The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit. . . .’ The prophets of the Old Covenant often denounced sacrifices that were not from the heart or not coupled with love of neighbor” (CCC 2100). Jesus was not denouncing ritual and worship; but, He was saying that loving our neighbors is more important still.
A simple yet sincere act of love from Jesus, asking Matthew to follow Him, completely changed this “enemy of the country”. Since that time, I can only imagine how many people have also experienced the mercy of God through the Gospel according to Matthew.