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St. Matthew, patron of sinners
Posted By Eric Sammons On September 21, 2010 @ 7:19 am In Saints,Scripture | Comments Disabled
Today is the feast of my favorite Evangelist and tax-collector, St. Matthew. Contrary to most modern biblical scholars – but consistent with the overwhelming tradition of the Church – I believe that Matthew’s was the first Gospel written, and it has always been my favorite Gospel. I particularly love the story of his conversion, told in stark terms but rich in meaning. As I wrote in Who is Jesus Christ? Unlocking the Mystery in the Gospel of Matthew :
Matthew’s story of his own conversion is perhaps the most personal account found in the four Gospels (Mt 9:9-13). In typical Gospel fashion, the narrative is short and modest, yet it reveals a profound self-understanding and a deep dependence upon Jesus.
The story really begins when the Evangelist, after recounting the core of Jesus’ preaching in the Sermon on the Mount, begins to detail the other pillar of Jesus’ public ministry: healing the sick, the lame, and the possessed. Beginning in Chapter 8 and culminating in the story of the paralytic in 9:1-8, Matthew describes the healing of a leper, the cure of a centurion’s servant, the restoration of Peter’s mother-in-law, and the exorcism of two demoniacs. The disease of the person or method used by Jesus does not matter — the result is the same: instant healing…
Immediately after the story of the paralytic, Matthew recounts his own calling. This context is important: he has established Jesus as a true healer of body and soul to lay the groundwork for his own transformation.
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as he sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” — Mt 9:9-13
Here, Matthew is defending his apostolic call against those who might question a tax collector as one of Christ’s closest collaborators. As a tax collector, Matthew has the most despised of jobs: he not only had to interact with “unclean” peoples, but he also worked for the hated Romans. And if Matthew was like most tax collectors of his time, he collected taxes above the Roman rate in order to line his own pockets. On the Jewish social scale, he was no better than a prostitute — yet Jesus personally called him to be one of his inner circle of followers.
The beauty of this conversion story lies in Matthew’s recognition of his own state — he knows he is a “sinner,” yet he rejoices that his sinfulness has brought forth the great mercy of Christ. Furthermore, he is telling his readers that all who would follow Christ must first recognize their own sinfulness. Christ is not interested in the “righteous” — he wants to call sinners to his table and bring them to salvation.
St. Matthew, pray for us sinners!
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 Today is the feast of my favorite Evangelist and tax-collector, St. Matthew. Contrary to most modern biblical scholars – but consistent with the overwhelming tradition of the Church – I believe that Matthew’s was the first Gospel written, and it has always been my favorite Gospel. I particularly love the story of his conversion, told in stark terms but rich in meaning. As I wrote in Who is Jesus Christ? Unlocking the Mystery in the Gospel of Matthew: http://ericsammons.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/St-Matthew-Byzantine-Ms.jpg
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