The Very Reverend Todd Donatelli

St. Matthew - From ‘Brightest and Best: A Companion to Lesser Feasts and Fasts’, Sam Portaro

Posted By Todd Donatelli on September 23, 2015

What kind of person would drop everything and take up with an uneducated, reactionary, itinerant religious teacher?  Matthew was probably a very unhappy man; as a tax collector, he was employed by a foreign government of occupation, and thus he was seen as a traitor to his people. It is hardly likely he had much respect for himself, either. Maybe he did not even care that he was hated. So what if he had sold his birthright? So what if no one loved him? At least he could be financially secure, even rich; if no one respected him for what he did, they would at least envy what he owned.

Maybe it was just one of those days when he was fed up with it all. His spirit was broken, his heart breaking, and his conscience leaking out around the edges when Jesus came by.  Or maybe it was just that someone took notice of him; saw him as something other than an imperial functionary on the take. Maybe it was one of those moments when a simple invitation like “Follow me” from someone – anyone – sounds like a good idea, or at least better than what he had and where he was.

After being called by a holy man, Matthew probably expected to be taken to synagogue or at least to have a little Torah quoted to him. Instead, he and Jesus go to Matthew’s house, where they sit down to eat dinner with a group of tax-gatherers, Matthew’s cronies. Jesus does not reprimand or lecture them, he does not renounce their profession, either. He does not tell Matthew to “get right with God.” He just eats with them – his way of saying that taxes or no taxes people are people simply because they are people, they demand a little love and respect for what they are in the eyes of God. It did not look much like a revival or a whiz-bang conversion; in fact, it got Jesus in hot water because it looked to outsiders like he was blessing the enemy. He was.

What followed was transforming. Matthew, who once cared so little for his Jewish heritage he could bleed his people dry, became the apostle to the Hebrews. He turned his record-keeping talents from taxes to texts, collecting one of the richest treasures of Jesus’ sayings. And he recorded the journey for us.

He, or someone close to him, or maybe just someone like him, gave it all back to us in a gospel.  What kind of person would drop everything and follow Jesus? The kind Matthew described himself in the very first beatitude: “How blessed, how happy are those who know their need of God” (Matthew 5:3).

From ‘Brightest and Best: A Companion to Lesser Feasts and Fasts’, Sam Portaro