Natus in Via
Born on the Way
Sept. 21, 2020
Feast of St. Matthew
Miserando atque eligendo
As Jesus passed by,
He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, “Follow me.”
And he got up and followed Him.
Matthew, also called Levi, is called much later than Peter and Andrew, James and John. Likely, he profited much from the presence of Jesus in Capernaum. Jesus had made this town His home and “the multitudes” came to see Him there and were healed. Mathew, meanwhile, sat at his post, performing a work disliked by all: a tax collector; for the occupying Romans no less. Matthew was not looked upon by the many in a favorable light.
In the Gospel context, Jesus has just proclaimed the radical nature of following him (Mt 8:19-22), He has calmed the ways of the sea (vv. 23-27) and cast out the demons who recognize Him as Son of God, but was rejected by “all the city” (vv. 28-34). In contrast to the spectacular promises of others, and the firm rejection of the Gadarenes (other than the freed demoniac whom Jesus sends to declare how God had mercifully saved him from Satan. Mk 5:19-20). Some receive Jesus into their home – their intimacy; some send Him away.
Surely, Jesus has “passed by” many times. Somehow, this time is different. Matthew tells this encounter simply yet profoundly. Jesus “saw a man”, or better, saw the heart of a man, named Matthew, who would, at a word, follow Him: “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1Sam 16:7). Our Lord calls in the midst of daily work, in the everyday circumstances of life.
It is interesting that the account of Zaccheus, the tax collector who returns fourfold, is not noted in the Gospel of Matthew, only in Luke (19:1-10). Also, Matthew did not carry the money bag… perhaps he knew well the temptation it might be (such sadness for Judas). Matthew’s gift – his name means “gift of God” – was, in time, the life-gift of blood. He would himself “give witness” as an evangelist and as a martyr. Our Lord is direct with those who try to turn the mind of the disciples: “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.”
Today we make a great sport of conversion stories, often telling evocative stories of the past. Matthew, on the other hand, emphasizes not what came before, but what is truly important, what came after. Jesus says, as He passed by, “Follow me”, and he did. Our Lord comes to restore hearts, to make them hearts of mercy, drawing out of sin and despair into the healthy hope which – Who! – is the Gospel. From that moment Matthew entered a new way of life. Conversion is possible, grace is present in the day-to-day. Slowly we will learn, and truly long for, the meaning of Mercy.
Fr. Paschal Mary, MFVA