As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13)
September 21 is the Feast Day for St. Matthew. On this day we give thanks to God for the good that He has done through St. Matthew in His church. St. Matthew was one of the twelve disciples, Jesus’ closest followers. He also wrote the first gospel (as best as we can tell). Other than that we don’t know too much about St. Matthew. His name shows up in the lists of disciples. The only specific story we have about St. Matthew is the account where Jesus calls him to be a disciple.
We find Matthew here sitting at His tax booth. Think of this like a toll booth, there to collect taxes on those who were traveling on the roads, especially those bringing goods to market. Tax collectors weren’t especially known for their honesty. They were looked down upon as collaborators with the hated Romans, as well as cheats and thieves.
But tax collectors were no common street thugs. Tax collectors had to be able to read and write. They needed to know math and be able to speak several languages. They were probably among the better educated people of their day.
When Jesus saw Matthew, He said, “Follow me.” We don’t know why Jesus chose Matthew. It was simply an act of grace. No matter how smart or wealthy anyone was, no one could earn their way into being a disciple. It was simply Jesus’ choice.
It was amazing that Jesus chose Matthew, and it was amazing that Matthew got up to follow Jesus. What about all the money there in the booth? What about all the paperwork? Who would take over after Matthew left? None of that is important. Just as James and John left their fishing nets and boats behind, so Matthew left his tax booth and his old life behind. Nothing was more important than following Jesus.
Jesus has chosen you, too. He calls you to be a disciple. He calls you leave your old life behind and follow Him. There’s nothing in you or about you that qualifies you to be a disciple. It’s simply Jesus’ gracious choice, as He calls you to follow Him.
O Son of God, our blessed Savior Jesus Christ, You called Matthew the tax collector to be an apostle and evangelist. Through his faithful and inspired witness, grant that we also may follow You, leaving behind all covetous desires and love of riches; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.