Matthew lost all of his friends and his family would have all but disowned him for becoming a tax collector. His only companions would be those, like him, who also had betrayed their people. It would be hard to call them friends, though. Each one was only looking out for himself. They enjoyed great pleasures and, abandoning the ethics and morals of their faith, embraced sensuality as their rule of life. They gathered together because they only had each other.
The Culture of Death
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - What would it be like to look at life through Matthew's eyes? As a Jew he was circumcised as a child and raised to follow the law of God. He then took a wrong turn as an adult, agreeing to work for those who were oppressing his nation.
This was the focus of our gospel passage for today in Matthew 9:9-13. The conversion of a tax collector named Matthew, told by the very person whose life would soon by changed.
He lost all of his friends and his family would have all but disowned him. His only companions would be those, like him, who also had betrayed their people. It would be hard to call them friends, though. Each one was only looking out for himself. They enjoyed great pleasures and, abandoning the ethics and morals of their faith, embraced sensuality as their rule of life. They gathered together because they only had each other.
One could wonder if he ever got used to the expressions of those whom he taxed; the disdain in their eyes, their frowns, the tone of their voices. He was a hated man who was willing to endure it all for just some additional comforts and the extra shekels he could skim from what he collected.
Yet, there must have been something going on inside of this betrayer of covenant. He must have wondered whether his decision was the right one - but there was now no way out! What could he do? He would always be "the tax collector."
Perhaps there was still an ember in the heart that would fire up whenever he heard someone recite the Hebrew Shema or heard a psalm chanted. Whatever was going on inside, one day he heard the Master's voice and looked into the face of love. The eyes looking back at him did not condemn but had the look of love. The tone of the man's voice was one of peace.
The voice uttered an invitation and Matthew's life would never be the same again. "Follow me."
Matthew not only immediately became one of our Lord's disciples, but he also became a portal to people who needed to hear the good news - the sin sick. Jesus, with Matthew at his side, sat among these castaways who, like him, had chosen to betray their nation for their own gain.
How interesting it would have been to hear their conversations; to listen to our Lord tell stories, laugh and love those who needed forgiveness. He was the Great Physician who wanted to provide healing to the ones most diseased. The Pharisees watched in disgust, unaware that they also carried the same sickness deep inside.
Faithful jews wanted nothing to do with people like Matthew. They walked by him every day totally unaware that there was something aflame on the inside. If Jesus had not intervened, the miserable man would have died with unresolved hope.
Living near the Beltway of Washington, DC, I wonder how many "Matthew's" I encounter on a daily basis. Given the nature of politics today with the unceasing assaults on the lives of the unborn, natural marriage and religious liberty, it is easy, as a Catholic, to feel betrayed by our own countrymen. This can easily lead to fostering a disdain for those who are involved in the attack.
A modern Matthew may be among these workers, participating in the Culture of Death yet a flickering ember lies within. We've seen this in recent years with Abby Johnson, who had worked for Planned Parenthood and now is a vocal proponent for the right to Life. There are countless others we could also list. The problem isn't a lack of examples, we lack the grace of charity - of love - for our so-called enemies.
Just last month our Holy Father, Pope Francis sent out the following "tweet" on Twitter: "Christ leads us to go out from ourselves more and more, to give ourselves and to serve others."
In order for us to follow Christ and move out of ourselves, we must continue to engage our culture, no matter how hostile it becomes. A Matthew may be waiting in the crowd for someone who will share with him - or her - the love of Christ.
In the passage Jesus challenged the Pharisees to go back to school - they needed to really learn the meaning of the Scriptures of which they purported to be experts. He wanted them to learn what God meant when he said, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice."
This was a statement of comparison, of preference. For all of their sacrifices in the temple, for all of their prayers, and for all of their pretensions, the Pharisees had missed this critical part - God's desire to show mercy to those who were dead in their sins. Jesus was showing them the true heart of God in his actions.
Back in 2004, while I was still an Anglican bishop, the March for Women's Lives was held in downtown Washington. This was a large demonstration for pro-abortionists, homosexual activists and other related groups. Several of us decided to go down and stand on the sidewalk, praying for the people who were participating.
We quickly found ourselves the target of their taunts and obscenities as they walked past. Some even tried to physically attack us for simply standing there praying and had to be forced back by the police.
Another group that was also present for prayer were the brave women from Silent No More. They stood silently, holding their signs which said, "I regret my abortion," while praying that there message would cut through the hate that held the hearts of so many who walked by. Then it happened. One of the marchers left the street and walked up to the group, stating that she, too, regretted hers and wanted to join the group. Another "Matthew" had come home!
This type of interaction with those who don't currently embrace our values and faith requires supernatural grace. This must be done in a gift of charity that must come from The Lord and not ourselves. St. Paul reminds us in his epistle to the Galatians that this love is a fruit of God's Spirit residing within.
In the work of evangelization in our modern world, we have a great opportunity to reach out to those who are, as Jesus describes them a little later in chapter 9, "harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd." To these, we need to offer the love and grace of Christ.
There are also the harassers, the perpetrators. Among them, a Matthew may be present, perhaps feeling trapped or privately at odds with their actions or involvement. They, too, need mercy.
Our mission in society is to maintain the same charity for all, showing the love of Christ wherever we go.
Father Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and a priest with the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (http://usordinariate.org) established by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, through the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. He is currently the chaplain of the St. John Fisher Ordinariate Community, a priest in residence at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church and Director of Pro-Life Activities for the Ordinariate. He is a popular speaker for parishes, apostolates and organizations.
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