Homilette for Monday, September 21, 2009

Feast of St. Matthew, apostle and evangelist

(Ephesians 4:1-7.11-13; Matthew 9:9-13)

A social worker in a Catholic nursing home was doing what we might call gospel therapy. She read the first part of a familiar gospel verse to a resident expecting him or her to complete it. It was amazing how many of the verses one aged resident knew. His responses seemed second nature, without thinking much less groping for words. For example, the social worker said something like, “I am the way...,” and the resident replied immediately, “...and the truth and the life.” The worker’s verses included some from the Gospel according to Matthew that are etched in Catholic consciousness like: “Blessed are the poor in spirit...”; “Come after me and I will make you...”; “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine...”

As with the other gospels we can say little with certainty about the background of Matthew’s. Because its Greek language is refined, someone schooled in that language, and not in Hebrew, is believed to have written it. Since it refers to the destruction of the Temple which occurred in the year 70 A.D., it was likely composed after that date. Its familiarity with the Jewish Scripture and customs suggests that the author intended it for a community with at least some Jewish roots.

In the passage selected for today feast, Jesus characteristically quotes the Old Testament. However Matthew alters those words a bit, however. Where the prophet Hosea says that God wants mercy more than sacrifice, Jesus is quoted as saying that God wants mercy and not sacrifice. Whatever Jesus’ original words were, he also expresses his purpose for coming to the world. We should take them to heart because they contain the key to salvation. Let me begin the verse and have you complete it for yourselves: “I did not come to call the righteous...”