Thursday, July 23, 2009

26. GETTING UP TO GO (MT 9:9-13)

“We open the door at the sound of his voice to receive him, when we freely assent to his promptings, whether secret or open, and when we do what we know we should do. He enters, then, to eat with us and we with him, since he lives in the hearts of his elect by the gift of love.”

- St Bede the Venerable

Matthew 9:9-13
As Jesus was walking on from there he saw a man named Matthew sitting by the customs house, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him. While he was at dinner in the house it happened that a number of tax collectors and sinners came to sit at the table with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ When he heard this he replied, ‘It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. Go and learn the meaning of the words: What I want is mercy, not sacrifice. And indeed I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners.’


Jesus Christ makes more “I” statements than any other of the world’s great religious figures, and we shouldn’t overlook this. Buddha pointed to the Four Noble Truths, Mohammad to the words he received from Allah, and even Moses drew his people’s attention to their covenant with God and the Ten Commandments, but Jesus Christ never tires of calling men to himself: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6); “I am the vine” (John 15:5); “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12); and in this passage: “Follow me… I came to call sinners.” Jesus Christ himself is the cornerstone (cf. Acts 4:11), the one foundation upon which the house of our salvation is built (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:11).


We do not know the background to this dramatic encounter between St Matthew and Jesus Christ. Perhaps Matthew had been following Christ at a distance for some time; perhaps they had known each other for years and only now did Christ call him to closer discipleship; perhaps they had never met before and Christ simply knew at first sight that this man was meant to be one of the Twelve. We do know, however, that Christ really knew Matthew, and that the innocuous phrase “and he got up and followed him” implies a full-scale revolution in Matthew’s life. Leaving behind his lucrative and secure (albeit unpopular) position of collecting taxes for Palestine’s foreign oppressors required taking a risk, to say the least. It required putting more faith in an itinerant carpenter from Galilee than in money, power, and all the pleasures they can offer. Why did Matthew do it? What gave him the courage to forsake the wide and smooth road of the world for the narrow and steep way of Christ?

Christ tells us – he wants us to know so that we can do the same: Matthew recognized and admitted his need for God. “Those who are well do not need a physician… I came to call sinners…” In Christ, God “never ceases to call every man to seek him, so as to find life and happiness” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 30), but only those who admit their need can hear his voice. The Pharisees rejected Christ, because they did not believe they needed him; the Law and their own efforts were sufficient, they thought. Matthew (and his fellow sinners) followed him, because Matthew knew that something was missing from his life, and the look of love and power that he saw in Christ’s eyes while he sat tallying coins in the market square gave him hope that in Christ he would find it.


Christ never let Matthew down in their friendship, and Matthew followed him to the point of giving his life in the name of Jesus. By leaving everything, Matthew experienced what all true Christians experience, over and over again: in letting Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, because he takes nothing away and gives everything.

When Christ calls someone to follow him, it is a dramatic event, a real encounter, face-to-face, eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart. Christianity is no abstract philosophy or aloof ideology, but a drama, a “covenant drama,” as the Church calls it (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2567), which addresses every man and woman at the core of their existence as a living, thinking, searching human being. Christianity is communion with God through friendship with Christ – nothing more, but nothing less.


I have heard your call in my life; I have recognized you looking me in the eye and inviting me. Let me relive these experiences and thank you for them... Jesus, you call me to follow you because you know me and love me. Only in heaven will I find out how much. I still want to follow you. Keep calling me; you know how hard it is for me to hear your voice amid the jingle of coins...

I sometimes take you for granted. I forget that in the Eucharist, in the priest, and in the Church, you, the very God who created the universe, the only Savior from sin, the perfectly wise and infinitely good Lord are always with me and reaching out to me. Remind me, Lord. Never let me forget. Use me to bring this good news to those around me. I believe in you; help my weak faith…
Jesus, never let me be ashamed to admit my sin. You know me better than I know myself. You invite me to open my heart to you through the channels you have given me, through confession, through the guidance you wish to give me in your representatives. I trust in you, Lord. Nothing can stop you from loving me…

Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC

1 comment:

  1. Father, No question, just a sincere thank you for the clarity of your answers and the pastoral way you present them. Much, much appreciated and I find myself making notes of many "gems" for use with my RCIA candidates either as background or as direct quotes and reference to your website. Many blessings upon you! Mark


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