O Almighty God, who by thy blessed Son didst call Matthew from the receipt of custom to be an Apostle and Evangelist; Grant us grace to forsake all covetous desires, and inordinate love of riches, and to follow the same thy Son Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
The Gospel from St. Matthew 9: 9-13 gives the account of Matthew's call to follow Christ:
And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him. And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.Matthew also seem to have been called Levi, and ancient tradition ascribes the authorship of the first Gospel to him. He may have also been a missionary among Jews and a martyr. Otherwise, our Gospel account contains most of what we know of Matthew. Although we are not fond of taxes, most modern Westerners have a hard time imagining the position of tax collectors in first century Palestine. First, for patriotic Jews, tax collectors were servants of hated oppressors. They were traitors to their own people. Secondly, tax collectors were religiously suspect. They dealt with money imprinted with idolatrous symbols, they were constantly in contact with people and things that were ritually unclean, and their lifestyle did not make it easy to participate in sacrifices and prayers. Thirdly, many tax collectors were morally reprehensible. The Romans contracted local tax collectors to gather a certain amount of money for the Empire, but the collectors were free to gather as much as they wanted by any means they wanted. Tax collecting was often similar to organized crime. Collectors could use the means that seemed convenient, included blackmail and extortion. And if a victim lacked cash, various goods and favors could be demanded.
So most tax collectors were indeed "sinners" that Pharisees and other respectable people avoided. Eating with tax collectors brought ritual uncleanness and at least a hint of moral taint. Yet, Jesus associated with such people and raised questions about His good judgment. The Pharisees put Jesus" disciples on the spot, and overhearing them, Jesus replied. He was the spiritual physician concerned about the sin-sick souls. He was calling tax-collectors like Matthew to repentance. Of course, the irony was that everyone, including the Pharisees was sin-sick and needed to be called to repentance.
On this feast of St. Matthew, may we see ourselves in the example of Matthew. Like him, we are all sinners whom Christ calls to repent. And like him, we are sinners who can be called and healed by the gracious mercy of Christ. Like Matthew, we can turn from sin, follow Christ, and serve His Gospel.