Friday, September 21, 2007

Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
From Customs House to Dinner Table

Readings: Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13; Psalms 19:2-3, 4-5; Matthew 9:9-13

I, the prisoner in the Lord, implore you to live a life worthy of your vocation…

These are very powerful, very moving words. And if we were to imagine them addressed, very personally, to each of us, what would they mean? What would it mean for each of us to live lives worthy of our vocation, of our calling?

Matthew’s story helps us in our reflection, especially when we consider carefully how his life changes as a result of heeding Jesus’ call. In the short gospel passage of today, the radical shift in Matthew’s situation is vividly illustrated by the two very different places where Matthew is to be found. Before his call, we find him seated in the customs house. This is where Matthew works. From here he sets out to separate people, his own people, from their hard-earned money. For Matthew is a tax collector, a much-hated collaborator with the Roman invaders. Yet appearances are deceiving. Although Matthew seems to enjoy some power here in the customs house, this is also, for him, a place of alienation. For by choosing to sit here, by choosing to earn his living here, by choosing to serve Caesar here, he shows himself to prefer money to his own people. And so he is shunned and looked down upon by them. And in his alienation from others, he is also alienated from himself, from his true identity as a proud member of the chosen People of God.

All this changes in the gospel. Jesus calls and Matthew rises. He leaves the customs house and follows Jesus. He stops selling his people, and himself, to foreign invaders. When next we find him, he is seated at the dinner table. Except that this is no ordinary dinner table. As with the customs house, here too appearances can be deceiving. Here, although Matthew appears to be the host, it is really Christ who holds the place of honour. And with Christ at the center, individual sinners can come together to form one Body. They do this, not so much by taking what belongs to others, as they do by sharing what each has been given. As we are told in the first reading, each one gives of the unique gift that each has received, such that slaves of Caesar become servants of the Lord, sinners become saints, who together make a unity in the work of service, building up the body of Christ.

This is what living a life worthy of our vocation looked like for Matthew. What does it look like for us? Where do we find ourselves today? At the customs house or the dinner table?

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