Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Feast of Saint Matthew, apostle and evangelist

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

Once a social worker in a Catholic nursing home was doing what we might call “gospel therapy” with a resident. She read the first part of a verse expecting him to complete it. It was amazing how many of the verses the aged resident knew so well that his response was automatic. For example, she might have said, “I am the way.” And the respondent would supply, “And the truth and the life.” Many of the worker’s verses were drawn from the Gospel According to Matthew which are etched in the memories of most Catholics. For example, she said: “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...”

Today we celebrate the feast of the author of this “first” gospel. As with the other gospels we know little with certainty about his background. Because his Greek language is refined, he was not likely a Hebrew-speaking disciple of Jesus. Since the gospel refers to the destruction of the Temple, which occurred in the year 70 A.D., he probably composed the work after that date and, therefore, was of the second generation of Christianity.

In the Gospel passage selected for today’s feast, Jesus characteristically quotes the Old Testament. The evangelist 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, Matthew also expresses his purpose for coming to the world. We should take them to heart because they contain the key to salvation. Let us do a bit of gospel therapy. If we hear, “I did not come to call the righteous...” What are we to answer?