St. Matthew

September 21

Eph 4:1-7,11-13; Matthew 9:9-13

Today is the Feast of St. Matthew, an apostle and evangelist too.  The name, Matthew means gift of God. Today’s gospel narrates how Jesus called Matthew and then Jesus was criticized for befriending with the alleged sinners, the friends of Matthew. In the book, Lives of Saints, tells us that one day, when our Lord was passing Levi’s customs post, He saw the publican seated there. His business was to collect taxes from the people for their Roman masters. Jesus said to him: “Follow Me.” Matthew followed Jesus and left behind all that he had, thereby giving us an example on how we should respond to the call of God.  This following, meant, imitating the pattern of his life and not just walking after him. Saint John tells us: “Whoever says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” He was Levi, as told to us in his Gospel, one of those tax collectors abhorred by the Jews as enemies of their country, outcasts and notorious sinners who enriched themselves by extortion and fraud. No Pharisees would sit with one at table; only Jesus who had compassion for them.

Saint Hippolytus calls Saint Matthew the victim and martyr of holy virginity. It is because when the king’s daughter consecrated herself to God with several other maidens and St. Matthew extolled the state of virginity. It so happened that he invited the suitor who wished to marry the king’s daughter to listen to what was he is going to say and the young man heard what he said. This young man got angry and arranged to have him slain as he came from the altar.

It is said in the Constitutions of Pope Saint Clement that Saint Matthew instituted holy water, for protection of soul and body. And the prayer he used for the purpose is reported in that document. His relics were for many years in the city of Naddaver in Ethiopia, where he suffered his martyrdom but were transferred to Salerno in the year 954 where they remained concealed in a cave for protection for over a hundred years.

In the New Testament, tax collectors were considered sinners but why? It is because Pharisees criticized such kind of job as not honorable as collections were paid to Rome. But actually tax collectors seldom cheated because of the efficient auditing system of the Roman Empire. Although they didn’t like their job of collecting tool fees, they did it for survival. So they were not sinners because they cheated in their work. They were called as such because of the dirty they were in. They were stereotyped as such.

Somebody said that Jesus’ call of Matthew and his good relations with Matthew’s colleagues show us that all honest professions can be sanctified.  It is true that some professions are more difficult than others because they provide more occasions for going astray.  But there are ways and means of being straight even in the most difficult jobs.  What is important is to be professionally competent.  Then one will not need to have recourse to illicit measures to keep on top of one’s professional field.

And so we have to leave behind all our sinfulness and be open to the call of Jesus, “Follow Me!”

See Today’s Readings: Feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

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