Fr. Mike’s Homily for the Feast of St. Matthew

Matthew

Matthew

Fr. Mike’s Homily for the Feast of St. Matthew

Theme: Those who are well do not need a physician

By: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Michael the Archangel Parish
Diocese of Novaliches

 

Homily for Tuesday September 21 2021

Feast of Saint Matthew
Mt 9:9‐13

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “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.”

Today we honor one of the pillars of the Church, the Apostle Matthew. The choice of Matthew, or Levi, as one of the apostles of Jesus is a total surprise and even a big scandal to many people. From all points of view, he cannot be a follower of any respectable Jewish rabbi. Perhaps even the other apostles are equally taken aback by this highly unusual move of the Lord.

This adverse reaction towards Matthew is understandable and not unexpected. It is based on the fact that he is a tax collector. Tax collectors are outcasts in the Jewish society. They are the most hated group because they are considered traitors and extortionists. In Palestine, most of them are Jews, but they are employed by the Roman Empire to collect taxes. So, they have basically turned away from the Jewish faith by working for a pagan foreign power.

They are traitors because their loyalty is not to the Jewish nation. Roman citizens do not pay taxes. So, the Empire gets its finances from the conquered peoples who are subjected to heavy taxation. And these tax collectors are the instruments of the colonial power to further oppress their own countrymen.

And they are professional extortionists and thieves. They do not receive any remuneration from the Roman authorities. So, in order to earn a living, they charge taxes that are more than what the people have to pay. That is why, most of them, if not all, are financially well of, and some have even become very wealthy.

So, we can just imagine the shock and disgust of the people to see Jesus talking to such a person, and inviting him to be His disciple! But Jesus is not perturbed by such a vehement reaction. He firmly stands by His decision to choose Matthew. And He has His reasons.

In the first place, nobody can read the heart of a person. Nobody, except Jesus. That is why He does not subscribe to generalizations and stereotyping. Each person is unique and has his own reasons for his actuations and behavior. As one contemporary American author, David Wolfe said, “Not all scars show, not all wounds heal, not all pain is obvious. Remember this before passing judgment on another.”
Jesus looks at the heart of Matthew and He sees his potential to be His follower and collaborator in His mission. For Jesus, our past does not matter. What is important is where we are now and where we can be in the future.

After hearing the words of Jesus, “Follow me”, Matthew gets up and follows Jesus. To ‘get up’ does not only mean a change in physical posture, but is symbolic of his radical decision to rise up from his sinful way of life – a total conversion. Jesus is right, after all: Matthew’s heart belongs completely to God. That is why at the word of invitation from Jesus, he quickly and unconditionally abandons everything. He has no hesitancy whatsoever in leaving his job, wealth and prestige for the sake of Jesus and the Kingdom. This is very similar to the response of Peter, Andrew, James and John to the call of Jesus, leaving their boats, their nets and even their family to go with Jesus.

And to formalize this major turning point in his life, Matthew decides to hold a ‘despedida’ party in his house. He invites Jesus and his disciples, and also the only friends he has – other sinners and tax collectors. Of course, the Pharisees are scandalized. Jesus does not only go to the house of a sinner, but He even dines with these most hated people in society. They ask His disciples: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus answers them point-blank: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.” He has come precisely to give spiritual healing to sinners: “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” So, He reminds the Pharisees that, instead of judging sinners, they should be compassionate and forgiving, and not be obsessed with the tiny details of the ritual laws. And He quotes from the prophet Hosea: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”

Like Matthew, we are all sinners. We have no right to judge. As St. Teresa of Kolkata said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” And so, like Matthew, let us rise up from our mistakes, prejudices and pride, and be more compassionate, understanding ang forgiving towards our fellow sinners.

Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Michael the Archangel Parish
Diocese of Novaliches

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