Each of likes to be invited to do something with a family member or friend, e.g. go out to dinner, to a movie, shopping, etc. Most times we make a decision rather quickly if we are free. But important decisions take time to sort out. When I thought of becoming a Passionist priest the time of discernment took several years. It was not a choice to be made on the spur of the moment.
In the gospel today Jesus invites a tax collector, Matthew, to follow him, and he does so. This is shocking to say the least. We are not given any details about how Matthew was able to follow Jesus rather swiftly. There is no background information given about Matthew’s responsibilities to family or government that would hinder him from making an immediate response. Somehow, the call of Jesus touched Matthew’s heart and soul, and he had the courage to say yes to Jesus.
I often wonder what the other apostles thought about Matthew’s calling? Jewish culture looked down upon tax collectors since they were employed by the Romans to collect taxes from the people. Suddenly these humble fishermen were expected to offer friendship to a man who was possibly devious and not trustworthy. We are not told about any conflict between Matthew and the other apostles, but that does not mean everything went smoothly.
When Jesus was criticized for eating with tax collectors and sinners, he calmly replied, “I did not come to call the righteous but sinner.” It is a reminder to all of us that the mercy of God is for ALL people, saints and sinners. The kingdom of God is open to all people, not just a chosen few. Jesus tested their faith when he told the people that they were to love their enemies and pray for their persecutors. That is a hard message for us to swallow as well.
Choosing to walk with Jesus means the willingness to walk with others that God has chosen. The apostles had to learn to respect and appreciate each other as disciples of Jesus. We Christians need to learn how to respect our brothers and sisters who think differently, believe differently, and pray differently. If we did this consistently there would be a whole lot more unity in the Body of Christ. Likewise we must open our arms to our Jewish brethren and people of other religions because Jesus wants all people to enter his sheep fold. May we look graciously upon all the people we meet today and see them as sons and daughter of God.
Fr. Michael Salvagna, CP