bible blog 249

FEAST OF ST. MATTHEW, APOSTLE AND EVANGELIST

This blog follows the daily bible readings of the Catholic Church

Reading 1

Eph 4:1-7, 11-13

Brothers and sisters:

I, a prisoner for the Lord,

urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,

with all humility and gentleness, with patience,

bearing with one another through love,

striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit

through the bond of peace:

one Body and one Spirit,

as you were also called to the one hope of your call;

one Lord, one faith, one baptism;

one God and Father of all,

who is over all and through all and in all.

But grace was given to each of us

according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

And he gave some as Apostles, others as prophets,

others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers,

to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry,

for building up the Body of Christ,

until we all attain to the unity of faith

and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,

to the extent of the full stature of Christ.

Caravaggio, "The Calling of Matthew"

Gospel of Matthew 9:9-13

As Jesus passed by,
he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, “Follow me.”
And he got up and followed him.
While he was at table in his house,
many tax collectors and sinners came
and sat with Jesus and his disciples.
The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples,
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
He heard this and said,
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
Go and learn the meaning of the words,
I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Not much is known about the apostle Matthew, other than this story; and the traditional identification of the apostle with the evangelist is almost certainly wrong. The early Christians who made this identification, found in “Matthew’s” gospel, something which matched the spirit of the story of the calling of “Matthew”. Tax collectors are not to be confused with the blameless civil servants of the Inland Revenue (UK). They were criminal collaborators of the Roman Empire, with the right to collect taxes, and their own “wages” from their own people. Patriotic Jews saw them as the scum of the earth; Pharisees saw them as morally and ritually unclean. The devastating photographs of what was done to French collaborators after 1945 give a flavour of Jewish feelings towards “tax collectors”, and towards any religious leader who might choose such people as his disciples. The offensiveness of Jesus’ choice of Matthew is very clear, and it is made much worse by his table friendship with other collaborators and people of bad reputation. Jesus cuts the cackle by his simple reminder about who needs the attention of a physician. But of course the argument is about what a physician should do. Heal, yes, befriend, no, in the opinion of Pharisees.  Jesus is saying that healing requires friendship. When Jesus says he only calls sinners, he’s not rejecting good people, but offering them a chance to find the “sinner in themselves”, who can respond to the mercy (kindness) of God, and extend it to others.

Those who identified the writer of the Gospel with the ex-collaborator felt that the entire Gospel breathed the spirit of this story.

Rembrandt,"St Matthew and the Angel"

The author of the magnificent “Letter to Ephesians”, who is almost certainly not the Apostle Paul, but someone writing in his name, speaks of the one calling of all believers by God’s love in Christ; of how we all become bearers of God’s grace to each other as we apply our diverse gifts to the partnership of faith; and of our true unity, which is our growth into the full stature of Christ, that is, the goodness of one who loved human beings in their badness.

Two of the very greatest religious paintings fit today’s saint. Caravggio’s Calling of Matthew shows the astonishment of Matthew confronted by the commanding summons of Jesus, who, barefooted with his disciple, breaks in upon a scene of causal wealth. Rembrandt’s Matthew and the Angel, depicts the aged disciple remembering and understanding the mission of Jesus, with the help of a divine messenger, who by beauty and delicacy, suggests the feminine presence of the Spirit.

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