Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tax Collector

He was a tax collector.

He was despised for what he did, by much of the Jewish population at the time. As a tax collector, he was considered an outsider. He was probably literate in Aramaic and Greek, and when it came time to write his life of Jesus, early church fathers tell that it was written in Hebrew.

Today is his feast day. What can we learn from Matthew?

First, he was called by Jesus to follow him. He didn't volunteer on his own - he was called, summoned by the rabbi Jesus. This must have scandalized the Pharisees, that such a man as this, a tax collector, a sinner, would be called to be an intimate of a righteous man.

Just like the other disciples, who would become apostles, he was called. And he responded whole-heartedly. He gave up what he had been doing, and followed. Leaving the past behind, he strove on toward the goal that was set before him. Just as Simon and Andrew were told they would be "fishers of people," Matthew was commissioned to make disciples of all nations.

Second, like those of us in the church today, he was far from righteous in his previous role. He was a tax collector, viewed by many Jews as a traitor to his own people. He collected taxes from Jews for the Romans - how much more traitorous could he be, working for the occupiers of the Land of Promise?

And yet, Jesus forgave him his sins, the shortcomings he had had in his previous life. He was made a new man. And just so, he took on a new character, and saw the world in a wholly different way.

Third, Matthew didn't have to get himself cleaned up before Jesus called him to a new life. He began doing right after the call, and his response. It was out of that new way of seeing the world that he changed the way he lived. The call was the trigger, and the response was the beginning of a new man.

And fourth, he is remembered to this day. He wrote - according to tradition - one of the four canonical gospels. Tradition says that he preached the gospel of Jesus in lands to the east of Judaea. Tradition says that he died a martyr.

He is St. Matthew. He is the patron saint of accountants, bookkeepers, bankers, and tax collectors. Even bankers, a group that gets a lot of dislike these days, have a patron saint. And who are we to say that each one of them has not been called, and has not responded, to the same call that Matthew answered two thousand years ago? Who are we to judge them? We instead would be well advised to celebrate the call, and pray for the response, that Matthew answered so completely all those centuries ago.

Grace and peace to all.

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