Feast of St. Matthew
Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13
Accountants and auditors don’t sound like very exciting people. Nor do tax collectors. They seem to be the self-effacing type who wear inconspicuous clothing and prefer to be unnoticed. They work away behind piles of books and papers, shying away from the limelight. They need quiet time to cull "the books" and try to reconcile the facts of the case with the prevailing statutes and laws. Their hope is to make as few waves as possible to avoid calling attention to themselves. Colorless anonymity suits them fine. Matthew probably fitted this description, since we’re not even sure about his name, given that at times he apparently went by another name-Levi (Mk 2.14).
Nonetheless, Matthew, a professional tax man and likely an accountant, still stands out: he received a special call from Jesus. Along with Peter, John, James and Andrew, his recruitment by Jesus merits attention. Perhaps Jesus felt someone like him was needed to keep an eye on Judas, who apparently was not beyond purloining a few shekels (Jn 12.6) from the money bag. But still, Matthew probably would have preferred that the banquet he gave after his call by Jesus remained low-key, but unfortunately it grew into a bit of a row as the Pharisees attacked his shady background, and that of his companions.
Matthew was quite a bit different from the other disciples-a company man with some professional credentials. But his calling by Jesus served to highlight a major theme apparent in his later life: that of unity. Already on the occasion of his calling, this unity theme was apparent because it gave Jesus the opportunity to clarify what He was about: calling sinners (as well as saints) to His discipleship. He was pursuing the bad as well as the good, breaking down the wall of division between them, and unifying them in the great privilege of being companions of Jesus.
St. Paul picked up on this characteristic trait of Jesus in his words to the Ephesians where he clearly states that he is "…striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace:…" Paul spells out that unity in terms of one Lord, one faith, one baptism. And he further describes it in terms of the diversified tasks in the early community: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers. He doesn’t mention tax collectors, but Matthew slips in under the category of apostle.
Matthew was to live out his life pursuing this unity theme, trying to reconcile the implications of following Jesus Christ, with the Judaism that was so dear to Matthew and many of his converts. He wanted no part of the ostracism he experienced earlier in life, later on in life, whether for himself or for his converts.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist community at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Illinois.