Pat and Mike were perched at their favorite pub in Donegal sipping their second pint of the afternoon. Directly across the street was a house of ill repute, well known to be a den of iniquity.
Their favorite pass time was to observe the comings and goings of the patrons of the house with not very charitable commentary. Pat poked Mike’s shoulder. “Mike, do my eyes deceive me or is that the Rabbi goin’ into the house? Ah, what would his people think of that?”
About an hour passed and Pat said to Mike, “Aye, but now there’s the protestant minister entering. Do you think his congregation knows about his behavior? Sure, it’s a disgrace.”
Now on their third pint, Mike exclaims, “Glory be to God, isn’t that Father O’Toole goin’ into the house? One of the girls must be dyin’”
It’s interesting how one’s perspective on another’s life and one’s judgment about them can be influenced by religion. That’s exactly what we see in the passage from Matthew’s Gospel. Like Pat and Mike, the Jewish religious leaders had great disdain for the likes of so-called sinners.
They take great exception to Jesus’ inviting Matthew to follow him. Our standards nowadays for vetting those suitable for ministry are very different from the way Jesus operated.
What if Jesus had required psychological testing to select his disciples? I guess most of them wouldn’t have got very far. They lacked any theological training; had unruly temperaments; had very few social graces and even their sense of loyalty was questionable. They abandoned Jesus in his worst hour.
Can you imagine that any one of them would be able to pass the litmus test with any Jerusalem Shrink at the time? And that brings us to Matthew, the tax collector or ‘sinner’ – he was a schemer – a double-dealer – he made out well out of the Roman occupation and put himself first. The Gospel today begins with the call of Matthew and the subsequent exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees on the appropriateness of eating with so-called sinners.
In Roman-controlled Palestine, tax collecting was considered traitorous because taxes supported the Roman occupation. It was also considered blasphemous because a portion of the money was used to build pagan temples. Too, the collector made a profit by charging whatever he wanted above what the Romans expected to collect from him.
Tax collectors like Matthew were despised and regarded as sinners. Yet Jesus called him; called all of them – broken examples of humanity – to become his disciples.
Why? Because Jesus looks beneath the surface and is not interested in stereo-types or qualifications or social acceptability. Jesus calls those whom the world sees as foolish or weak because he knows that from this foolishness and weakness will come an inner strength which will ultimately change the world.
Calling a guy like Matthew who was considered to be the worst of sinners is an obvious example of both the power of forgiveness and the possibility of redemption of even someone’s very sordid past.
How interesting that the second half of this narrative tells of two huge healing events. What Jesus does here is to give both the woman who suffered with hemorrhages and the daughter of the synagogue leader their lives back and that is essentially what Jesus did for Matthew—to restore him to wholeness and to give him a second chance of living a life of meaning and grace.
My friends, we are called by Jesus for who we are and with all our warts and imperfections; our temperaments and misgivings because he sees our potential, often far more than we can. Jesus calls us to be his followers and to be faithful to him, but he wants us to be faithful to ourselves too – to be truly ourselves and discover the vocation he has for each one of us.
If we think we have nothing to offer or that there is little we can do to ease the suffering of another, especially someone like the hemorrhaging woman or a tax collector who were considered outcasts, we can remember the story of the starfish.
A man was walking along the beach when he saw a boy picking up starfish and throwing them back into the ocean. The man asked the boy why he was doing that since there were so many starfish on the beach. “You can’t save them all,” he said. The boy picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean. “It made a difference for this one,” he replied...... And so can we.