Matthew was a Jew who worked for the Roman occupation forces in Palestine. Often corrupt and unjust, tax collectors were known to cheat their own people, lining their pockets with the extra money the Romans allowed them to collect as a personal perk. Regarded as a traitor by his fellow Jews, Matthew was placed in the same category as prostitutes and other public sinners.
But all of this changed when Matthew answered Our Lord’s call to follow him. Over time, Matthew underwent a profound conversion and became a powerful evangelist. He devoted himself to bringing the Gospel message to the same Jews he had once alienated and scandalized. Even today, his preaching continues to touch hearts through the gospel that bears his name.
It’s interesting that today’s gospel pairs Matthew with the Pharisees who struggled to understand and accept Our Lord’s teachings. Our Lord knew how devoted the Pharisees were, but he still urged them to go further by stretching their conception of mercy and compassion. In a sense, Our Lord extends the same call to the Pharisees as he did to Matthew.
Clearly, holiness is not just a choice that we make once and for all, such as when we are confirmed or decide to attend Mass regularly, or offer ourselves for the priesthood or the religious life.
There is no end to the call to holiness—at least not in this life. And that’s not because we’re so hopelessly sinful; the call never ends because our lives keep changing. Matthew’s decision to follow Jesus as a new disciple was far different from his decision to follow Jesus as an experienced Apostle.
Some of us are old hands in trying to become more holy, but we can all ask ourselves today how Our Lord is asking us to advance a little further along the path of holiness.
Saint Matthew, pray for us.