September 21, 2020 – Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
Click here for the readings (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/092120.cfm)
Have you ever come to a point where you felt so unworthy, useless and even felt disgusted with yourself because of something wrong that you have done before? This happens when we have a deep consciousness of our own sinfulness, imperfections and weaknesses. Yet, when we also tend to focus to what is only wrong and ugly in us, we also begin to lose self-confidence, self-worth and self-value. We also begin to underestimate our capacities and ourselves.
In relation to this, the way we relate with God is also affected because we would tend to relate with Him as someone who would judge us and punish us for what we have done. Then, we relate with God in fear and guilt rather than in love.Tweet
This kind of attitude was very strong during the time of Jesus. Sinners had no place in the Jewish society. When a person is poor and sickly, they believed that God punished him/her for the sins the person committed or committed by his/her parents in the past. People believed that sinners must be driven away from the community.
This is the reason why lepers were untouchables, or the paralytics, the lame and the blind were despised by the “normal people,” because they were sinners and were punished by God. The seemingly normal people who were identified as the Pharisees and Scribes maintained a status quo that separated them from the sinners. These people would not touch any known or public sinners. They would not join them in any celebration. They forbid those sinners from entering the synagogue and the Temple. They disowned the sinners, treated them as less-humans, despised them and condemned them.
Thus, every sinner felt unloved, unwanted and condemned. However, this is not the case with Jesus. Jesus turned the condemning culture upside down. Jesus went away from the rigid, judgmental and unforgiving Pharisees and Scribes. He surprised them with forgiveness, mercy and love.
This is what has been proclaimed in today’s Gospel as Jesus called Matthew, a tax-collector to follow him. Matthew, since he worked with the Roman rulers and collected tax among his fellow Jews, was considered a public sinner. His fellow Jews despised and prohibited him to enter the synagogue and the temple and even to mingle with his fellow Jews. Matthew, like any other sinner, was condemned and excommunicated by the Jewish society.
For the Jews, no righteous Jew shall talk to him or touch him. Yet, Jesus did all these things. Jesus talked to Matthew, touched him and even dined with him, made him a friend and called Matthew to be one of the disciples. This tells us how Jesus calls and brings many wonders in the life of a person who responds.
Jesus proclaimed his message to everyone as he said, “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” This tells us that God is a God of forgiveness, of many chances, of healing and freedom. Jesus understands the struggle of a sinner though he was not a sinner himself.
The letter of Paul to the Ephesians tells us that each of us has been given the grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. As Matthew, the sinner was given the grace of forgiveness and acceptance, and so we are. The presence of God is the grace that liberates us from whatever burden, shame and guilt that we are suffering from.
Hence, we should be careful then, when we feel the temptation to appear righteous and superior. Jesus said that he did not come for the righteous but for the sinners because righteous people do not need God. In fact, when we feel too righteous, we become arrogant. Arrogance keeps us away from God and would make us deny God’s mercy.
This is the invitation for us today. We are called to humble ourselves by acknowledging our sinfulness. This moves us then, to recognise our need for God, need for forgiveness and healing. And when we recognise God in our life, then, we also allow God to transform us, to change our lives, to call us and to touch us like what happened to the public sinner, Matthew. As he allowed Jesus to call him, Matthew’s life was changed forever who became an apostles and an evangelist. Matthew, through his past life, brought many people to know Jesus until today.
Hopefully, this kind of attitude towards ourselves and towards God, our attitude and treatment to those who failed, committed mistakes and have wronged us, may also become more like Jesus – that we may become welcoming of other sinners like us, by forgiving those offenders like us, and by promoting healing and reconciliation and not condemnation and destruction of sinners and offenders like us. Hinaut pa.
Jom Baring, CSsR