Today the Church honors St. Matthew – the tax collector who became a disciple of the Lord and, in doing so, a friend of GOD. It’s been 7 years since I have filed a tax return, but I can still recall the dread that would precede April 15th. I worked for the Church for most of my adult life, so "Uncle Sam" always owed me. Still, the little boxes, mysterious formulas and W-2’s made me a wreck. I suspect taxes were just as pleasant two thousand years ago. Tax collectors? They were probably not the most popular guys in the Roman Empire. “Rendering unto Caesar” was a matter of life or death. No extensions. No audits to clear things up. Pay the man at the table or...suffer the consequences.
When JESUS called Matthew (aka “Levi”,) his enemies were ready to pounce. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples,“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”He [JESUS] 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.”
Mercy…not sacrifice. This divine preference was made known to Israel by the prophet Micah. A preference - it helps me to frame it this way. When faced with the easy choice between pious practices or the hard work of forgiving an old wound, most of us would choose the Novena. But, the LORD prefers that we choose mercy in our dealings with one another over Olympic acts of prayer or penitence.
This “preference” makes sense if you see Christianity as fundamentally incarnational – a religion which reveres the human person as image and likeness of GOD. When the Word became flesh, all flesh was made holy. It was St. Athanasius who wrote: “God became man so that man could become GOD (St. Athanasius, De Incarnatione 54:3).” This idea that we are destined to become GOD is called, theosis or divinization. We believe this - check the Catechism!
Do I think Matthew knew what he was in for in following JESUS? Definitely not. But Matthew did follow. So much for the sinner-theory that made the Pharisees feel clean and pure. It would seem we are all "tax collectors" – hopeful sinners who one day decide to drop our coins and follow the voice of mercy. Many such sinners find their way to the monastery and follow Christ until their last breath. Not an easy road but for those who are called, it is a joyful journey. May St. Matthew intercede for those who are ready to begin again in Christ.
Blessings and love to you all...
- Sister Vicki