Feast of Saint Matthew the Apostle 2009

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Today, we celebrate the feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist. Among the four Gospel writers, there is perchance no greater example of how the grace of God, afforded for all men in the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, allows for a man afflicted in his own moral turpitude to become a witness to eternal life. In a manner, it is that most ennobling of mysteries: that he whose sordid life, one identified in his own time with a practice in financial deceits, if not an outright complicity in the occupation of his fellow Jews, should be first a testament to the fact that a death is the wage of sin, but then to the promise of eternal life. It is a most ennobling mystery, because there is a great nobility in man, that he should be so fashioned in life, in spite of his near constant predilection for death. What God wills must ever be so; ours is a nobility in the sheer fact that God loves each and every one of us and, in His own manner, strives to perfect us into His own divine likeness.  That truth, that we are at once fallen and capable of a total perfection, in sin and hopeful for an eternal life, is manifest in the ministry of Saint Matthew.

We first come upon Saint Matthew sitting at the receipt of custom. He is a tax collector, of a most despised caste of men, known for the practice of padding their own purses by charging more than legally required. As examples of Roman law, the tax collectors all too often exhibit, in their deceit and force, a selfish lawlessness, one showing all too clearly how the law of that day barely masks the brutal ambitions of men. Theirs is a charade, rather than a profession, a not too subtle display of the cunning arts of a lie. In that, Matthew and his fellow tax collectors exemplify the death in a sin, since at the heart of every transgression from the will of God is a lie: the lie that there is some other god to be worshipped than the true God, a god created by and for men, a golden calf in the image of Baal. Understandably, such an obvious display of sin inspires the righteously discordant response: the haughty disdain of the Pharisee, the violent resolve of the zealot. Indeed, a number of centuries later, the great, Christian poet Dante, in his allegory The Inferno, will relegate a deceitful traitor among the lowest realms of Hell.

Given the peculiarly harsh disdain reaped upon the tax collectors, what is perchance less clear is how pervasive indeed is the lie. The irony is that we treat them as particularly odious, because we see in them what in fact is most common: that each and every one of us, in a manner, behaves in this fallen world as if one of the tax collectors. If we doubt this fact, then let us consider within our hearts if ever we have sought out a personal advantage at the expense of another, or spread an unsavory gossip to profit from the discrediting of a brother, or taken more than what was properly allotted, or abandoned family or friends for such charms of a stranger. Have we aligned ourselves with what is powerful, rather than struggled for what is good? Do we pad our personal, internal ledgers, our own sense of where we stand in this world and in the righteous judgment of God, so as to deceive ourselves into thinking that we do not need anything but our own devices, our own capacities for cunning mind and glib tongue, to secure our paths in this lifetime? Do we keep a little aside, just in case, rather than give all that we have as a most reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto God? The answer is clear, for all who have ears to hear: that, like Matthew at the receipt of custom, ours is that mere shadow of a life, mired in what we endeavor to grasp onto in and for ourselves, rather than that eternal life as offered for each and every one of us in Christ.

We are all so afflicted. This is why, in his second Epistle to the Corinthians, Saint Paul advises not only the obvious sinners, but indeed the brethren in Christ, to renounce dishonesty, to travel not in craftiness, and to proclaim not the Gospel in any tenor of deceit. Like Matthew, after he renounces his past life in sin by the definitive act of arising from the receipt of custom, we are to set aside all such lies and be transparent as vessels for Christ. We are to be noble, in that we arise whenever we stumble, we give away as once we have coveted, we remain loyal as once we have betrayed. There is a hope that, in spite of our waywardness, good may take flight from the ashes of sin, that indeed Christ Himself may call to each and every one of us from our own, personal receipts of custom to arise from our seats and to follow Him.

In light of this hope, let us pray then. Let us pray that, as Matthew heard the voice of this Shepard, the God who reaches out for the last of the sheep, we too may so hear and respond. There is indeed no greater indication of our nobility than that we are able so to pray.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Published by Michael Sean Erickson

I write, act, and produce films in Los Angeles. Everything else is conjecture.

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