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Following Him


“Their message goes out through all the earth.” ~ Psalm 19

Today our Church pauses to recognize the great evangelist and apostle Saint Matthew whose Gospel, prior to the modern liturgical reform movement, was the basis for the vast majority of Gospel lessons taught during the celebration of the Holy Mass. With the sweeping reforms that took place about a half a century ago, we now hear more from the Gospels of Mark and Luke, but Matthew is still largely considered the greatest teacher among the Synoptic Gospel writers.

Perhaps this was due to the fact that Matthew was a tax collector by trade. A keen attention to detail and precise record keeping most likely came a little easier for him. Of that seminal encounter at the Customs Post he had with Jesus, Saint John Chrysostom remarked “He who is acquainted with the hearts and knows the secrets of each man’s mind, knew also when each of these would obey.”

It was interesting to hear a guest on Catholic Radio yesterday explain how the Apostles are typically “ranked,” whether it be subconsciously or otherwise. Saint Peter, the Keeper of the Keys and Rock of our Church perpetually leads the pack. Judas the betrayer languishes in the distant rearview mirror, the eternal “cellar dweller” in more ways than one. This guest asserts that Matthew comes in around 8th. He isn’t in the inner circle so to speak, and therefore not mentioned in Scripture with the frequency of the aforementioned Peter or James, Andrew or John for that matter, but he’s also not among those who are rarely if ever mentioned. Quick, can you name Judas’ replacement? If not, this essay provides a quick and lighthearted refresher As a tax collector, a “numbers guy” if you will, perhaps Matthew was something of an introvert. If so, how long must he have yearned for those simple words from the prescient voice of his Savior: Follow me. For Matthew, they were life changing. So too can they be for you and me.

What does it mean to follow Him, to follow Jesus as we swiftly approach the back stretch of this the year 2021? I would assert that first and foremost it means knowing your worth, your intrinsic divine value. To that point, although I’ve read today’s 1st Reading (Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13) many times before, today I picked up on something I never have before. “He gave some as Apostles, others as prophets,” Paul explains, “others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers,to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry.” Our true calling in life has nothing to do, at least in Paul’s eyes, with our profession. Paul didn’t say that some are called to be dentists, others project managers, still others elevator repairmen and anesthesiologists. Our careers are important, make no mistake about it, but our self-worth should never be derived from them.

“I’m an architect,” I’m an investment banker,” I’m a realtor,” “I’m a florist,” people will more than likely say at the outset of your average general conversation with someone to whom they have just been introduced. Admittedly, sharing this information will more often then not make for a good icebreaker Rarely however will you ever hear anyone say “I am a child of the Heavenly King,” this despite the fact that it is the only correct answer. Even in today’s Gospel (Matthew 9:9-13), the Pharisees were perplexed at Jesus’ proclivity for dining with tax collectors and sinners, clearly oblivious to the fact that they too fell into the latter category. We all do. Why wasn’t Jesus attracted to the pious, the well-connected and the wealthy? He actually answers that question in the waning words of the passage.“I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (9:13).

These words in Matthew 9:13 coupled with Jesus’ invitation to follow Him transformed a rudderless and wayward tax collector who once went by the name of Levi back in the 1st century AD. They can do the same for us.

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Saint Matthew, pray for us…..

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