September 21, 2022
by Jay Carney
Creighton University's Theology Department
click here for photo and information about the writer

Feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle and evangelist
Lectionary: 643

Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13
Psalm 19:2-3, 4-5
Matthew 9:9-13

Praying Ordinary Time

Weekly Guide for Daily Prayer

What If I Have Trouble Getting Better?

When I think of Matthew, I think of the quest for holiness. This stems in part from Matthew’s ancient status as “the training manual for disciples,” the gospel that occupied pride of place for teaching the faith to early catechumens. Yet this association also reflects the profound influence of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount on radical modern thinkers as diverse as Bonhoeffer, Gandhi, and Dorothy Day. As Gandhi himself once wrote, “I saw that the Sermon on the Mount was the whole of Christianity for him who wanted to live a Christian life.”

Appropriately, then, today’s readings for the Feast of St. Matthew offer wonderful reflections on the nature of Christian holiness. Far from self-exaltation, the Christian life should be one of humility, gentleness, patience, and, in a verse that all married couples can surely relate to, “bearing with one another through love.” Holiness is about seeking unity, first and foremost within the Body of Christ. And yet Ephesians also reminds us that we do not achieve holiness, nor do holy lives look the same. Rather, the Spirit operates uniquely in each of our lives, bringing out distinct gifts and vocations as we strive to conform more closely to Christ’s life and message.

Matthew’s gospel reminds us that the call to Christian holiness also brings us into closer touch with our own sin and our fellow sinners. In this sense, holiness is not about achieving perfection, but rather receiving the encounter of Christ, and sharing Christ’s mercy with others. Matthew, the despised tax collector and Roman collaborator, responds to Christ’s beckoning. Nor is he the exception to the rule. Rather, his subsequent house party is full of tax collectors, prostitutes, and other public sinners feasting with Jesus and his motley friends. The Pharisees, those denizens of first-century holiness, are of course scandalized. Where is the justice? Where is the judgment? Where are the lines of separation? Does Jesus not know that holiness means “set apart”?

Ultimately, Jesus is set apart by the boundless mercy he offers, beckoning us to turn, receive, share, and follow. On this Feast of St. Matthew, may we let Christ encounter us and call us deeper into encounter with others.

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