In today’s gospel Jesus makes another unlikely selection for one of his apostles when he chooses Matthew, a tax collector, who drops everything to follow Jesus. Then Jesus goes to Matthew’s home where he eats with other tax collectors and sinners. Wouldn’t one think that Jesus would want to choose someone who is good and virtuous, someone who is “at home” in the synagogue and associates with others with similar values? You would think he would call the holiest to be his apostles rather than one of the tax collectors, a group distrusted by the Jewish people? Isn’t that what his followers will need long after he is gone, leaders who are already holy with connections with others who followed Jewish law and attended the synagogue regularly, people he could count on? But, Jesus did not call the pillars of the synagogue to lead his church, and we have the benefit of hindsight to see how successful that has been.
There are a number of lessons that we can take from this passage. One is the lesson that Jesus tries to convey to the Pharisees, that his mission is to focus on those who need him the most, sinners like you and me. He is trying to teach them about forgiveness; the infinite forgiveness that he offers to them and to all of us. What a gift his mercy and forgiveness are; given not because of anything we could ever do to earn them but because of his love.
If we are going to truly follow in his path, we also need to forgive without waiting for the other person to earn or even ask for that forgiveness. How hard that can be at times when someone has hurt us. We want them to do something to make up for that hurt, at the very least we want to hear those three words, I am sorry. But, Jesus is trying to teach us that we need to forgive as he forgives us, freely and unconditionally. As a mother, that kind of forgiveness is most difficult for me when someone has hurt one of my children. But I do not think there is an exception even in that case, after all God the Father has forgiven our sins that crucified his Son.
There is also the lesson that Jesus offers us about true humility; he is not self-righteous and judgmental and he wants us to follow his example. It can be a difficult example to follow. There is an insidious self-righteousness that is supported by our society’s skewed focus on individual rights. We seem to think that our right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” takes precedence in all manner of situations even if our rights are in conflict with someone else’s rights. We sometimes have a sense of being owed something for most everything we do and it is easy to fall into the trap of questioning if someone else is deserving of what they have received.
The lessons that can be drawn from today’s gospel are not always the easiest to put into practice. Let us give thanks to God for his infinite patience with us and renew our efforts to follow his son’s path of humility and forgiveness. The psalmist clearly portrays how very fortunate we are in the words, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his mercy endures forever.”
Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook