September 21, 2023
by Ed Morse
Creighton University's School of Law
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?

Today’s readings raise questions about what it means to live as a Christian. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians calls us to “live in a manner worthy of the call you have received.” He provides guidance that this worthiness will include humility and gentleness, patience that bears with one another in love, and striving to preserve unity and peace.

Such conduct is a tall order in a world where deeply flawed humanity dwells. Paul then tells us how this is possible: “But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” That is a big measure of grace, to be sure. But will that grace be enough?

We have to try in order to find out. Human wills are involved, but this is not an exercise of “fake it until we make it.” Grace is available for us through the sacraments, from prayer and the Word, and from helps shared with one another. Too often we behave like little children who run off to pout when they don’t get their way. Paul is calling us to behave like adults.

Today’s gospel presents the call of Matthew, whose feast we celebrate today. Matthew was called from the “customs post” where he was collecting taxes from his people for their Roman overlords. This was not a popular position for a Jewish man. The tribute exacted went into the coffers of an occupying government, with a little left over to compensate Matthew and his fellow tax collectors. It is an odd preparation for a calling toward apostleship! But Matthew’s call shows us grace at work, drawing us to a closer relationship with God.

Can you imagine the scene at Matthew’s house? Tax collectors and fellow outcasts are glad to be sharing friendship with one another, something all people need in order to thrive. But our Lord is showing them a friendship based on something deeper than their camaraderie and the material comforts provided by their work. We don’t know his exact words, but they were likely truthful and genuine. Those tax collectors could tell when someone was putting them on! Our Lord was not doing that. He was real. But he was also calling them to something higher, greater, and better that what they knew. Matthew was able to respond to that call.

We might see something of ourselves in those tax collectors, who were physically comfortable but spiritually needy. We might also see ourselves in the Pharisees, who sealed themselves off from those who needed God’s love the most. We would do well to ponder Jesus’ instruction to them: “Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”

Is this desire for mercy to be realized on a human level by showing mercy to others? Or is the desire for mercy satisfied by God’s own efforts to extend mercy to sinners like us? I think both senses of this desire for mercy are true, particularly if we take Paul’s instructions for worthy living to heart.

Lord, help us to ponder how we might show mercy. Help us to become vessels to transmit the grace we have received to others in humility, showing gratitude for your generous mercy. Thanks be to God.

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