September 22, 2020
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Yesterday, September 21, was the feast of St. Matthew the Apostle. He represents one of the most dramatic vocational calls recorded in Sacred Scripture. He was a tax collector, which was not a very reputable job during the time of Jesus. Tax collectors would bid on the collection of taxes because they were able to collect for the government and themselves. This gives us a perspective on the town’s dislike of Zacchaeus and the reason why everyone was so upset at Jesus for choosing to dine with him and similar individuals.
The presentation of the call is rather simple. Jesus saw Matthew at the customs post and said to him, “Follow me.” Scripture tells us that Matthew got up and followed him. It must have been a profound moment. It’s difficult to imagine that two words could so radically shape and reform one’s life. Many Scripture commentators inform us that it is probable that Matthew listened to and followed this well-known Rabbi for a while. Yet, Matthew chooses to express this profound conversion in his own Gospel in two words: “Follow me.”
This call was an invitation expressed by Jesus. There are moments in our lives when we experience an invitation, and our response will change our lives forever. One example is the response to a marriage proposal. Another is when the Holy Spirit nudges a person to commit to religious life and follow the evangelical counsels. The call to pursue the diaconate or priesthood are more examples. These are not contractual presentations, but rather personal invitations from Jesus. The response to these invitations changes lives.
Fr. Jorge Bergoglio reflected on a painting by Caravaggio entitled “The Call of Matthew.” He must have meditated on the subject matter, feeling himself a part of this presentation. Caravaggio depicts Christ making a gesture toward Matthew, who appears almost surprised as he points to himself in response to the gesture. Others in the customs tax house are preoccupied with the gold coins of their collections. The painting seems almost dark; there are no trappings of the light or holy intervention. Instead, there is only the stark depiction of a moment that is ignored by others.
Regardless of the obscurity, this is a profound transformational encounter for the one being called. Matthew must have recognized that he was a sinner. We may ask, “Why Matthew?” Or, we may wonder what stirred his soul to respond. But, we know that it was the mercy of God’s choice that makes all the difference in the world, and especially all the difference in our lives.
In a homily, Venerable Bede reflects on the call of Matthew and emphasizes the mercy of Jesus reaching out and choosing him. When a new bishop is consecrated, he chooses an episcopal motto. When Fr. Bergoglio became a bishop, he chose the motto, Miserando Atque Eligendo, which means “by mercifully choosing.” It seems that the new bishop was reminding himself that we humbly acknowledge God’s mercy in his choices, choices that make all the difference in this world. God continued to mercifully choose Bergoglio, who later became an archbishop, cardinal, and finally, the pope. Pope Francis has retained this motto and uses it now during his papacy.
We do not know much about St. Matthew. He was probably among the more educated of the Apostles. His Gospel was directed to a Jewish audience, as he describes Jesus as “the Messiah, the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets.” Tradition tells us that he preached in Judea and was later martyred in Ethiopia.
St. Matthew reminds us that we are the objects of our Lord’s mercy. Jesus calls all of us to follow Him, and we are forever changed. We must realize that it is His mercy in choosing us, and this must lead us to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee