24 Saturday in Ordinary Time
Feast of St. Matthew
Maybe it’s just me, but in today’s opening prayer, the Church seems to be raising her collective eyebrows at Our Lord’s choice of St Matthew, of all people:”O God, who with untold mercy were pleased to choose as an Apostle Saint Matthew (!), the tax collector (!!)…” So Jesus goes on to tell us “Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” We can almost hear Matthew mumbling to himself, “Take that, you Pharisees!”
But if we think about it a little more, there’s a deeper meaning to Jesus’ words, as there always is. He’s telling us the secret of his own life, “to desire mercy, not sacrifice”, and if we want to be like him, we too will show mercy to others.
Then comes a striking statement of what Jesus thought he was supposed to do in the world. “I did not come”, he says, hinting at the fact that he was before he was born, and that his incarnation was a voluntary act of his. True, he was sent, and we speak of his mission, but also he came, and we speak of his advent.
And why did he come? To eat with tax collectors like Matthew and sinners like us (I speak for myself). He calls us to repent, he calls us to himself, he calls us to self-surrender, he calls us to eternal life, he calls us to a better feast than Matthew prepared for him.
But we need to recognize that we are sinners, or we’ll never realize that he’s speaking to us when he says that he came to call sinners. We’ll never see that we’re spiritually sick and need a physician, and that Jesus is certified by the Father to practice the forgiveness of sins.
He’ll do that again at this Mass. So pay attention when he says: “Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood, which will be poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins”. To paraphrase John Donne: ask not for whom his blood is shed. It’s shed for you.