10th Sunday of the Year Hosea 6:3–6; Romans 4:18–25; Matthew 9:9–13
Unlikely candidates Jesus called unlikely candidates to share the task of spreading God’s kingdom. They gave up much, but got back much more.
Douglas Hyde was the editor of The Communist Daily Worker in England before he found Jesus and became a great apostle of Christianity.
Piri Thomas was a drug pusher, thief, and attempted killer before he found Jesus in a prison cell and became a great apostle of Christianity.
John Newton was a slave trader before he found Jesus, became a minister, and went on to write such great hymns as Amazing Grace.
Paul of Tarsus persecuted Christians before he found Jesus on the road to Damascus and became one of the greatest apostles of Christianity the world has ever known.
A common thread runs through these four examples. It is that each person was an unlikely candidate to be called by Jesus to play an important role in the spread of God’s kingdom on earth.
Today’s gospel gives us yet another example of such a person. That person was Matthew, a tax collector.
To understand why a tax collector was an unlikely candidate to be an apostle, we need to know something about them.
Tax collectors were Jews who worked for Rome. They acquired the right to collect taxes the same way many doormen of swank hotels acquire their jobs today: they bid for the job. Once they got their assignment, it was up to them to get their investment back and make a profit as well.
There were all kinds of ancient taxes. They ranged from income taxes and poll taxes to taxes to use certain roads and taxes to bring certain goods from one area to another.
Because tax collectors worked for Rome, they could count on Roman cooperation. For example, a tax collector and a Roman soldier could stop a man on a road, make him unpack his belongings on a cart, and tax him just about anything they wished.
If the man refused to pay, the soldier would make his presence felt. If the man didn’t have the money to pay, the tax collector turned into a lending agent, gave him the money, and charged him a high rate of interest. What made matters worse, ancient peoples had nothing like newspapers, radios, or television to expose the abuses of the tax system. They just endured them.
Small wonder one ancient writer tells of seeing a monument dedicated to the memory of an honest tax collector. Honest men in this profession were so rare that the citizens erected a monument to one when they found him.
Jews had yet a second reason for disdaining tax collectors. They believed that God alone was king. To pay taxes to the Roman emperor was to give to him what rightly belonged to God alone.
This helps explain why tax collectors were barred from synagogues and lumped together with sinners and outcasts.
When Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector, to be one of his closest associates, it was truly remarkable.
It was yet another example of Jesus’ ability to see beyond what people are to what they can become, if they try.
Jesus saw something in Matthew that other people did not see.
And this brings us to Matthew himself.
Matthew clearly gave up a lot when he accepted Jesus’ invitation to follow him and become one of his closest co-workers. But Matthew also got a lot in return. Matthew gave up a comfortable, predictable life, but he got in return an unpredictable life filled with adventure. He gave up a good income, but he got in return the satisfaction of knowing that he was doing something that would be lasting and significant. He gave up a life that would end in twenty years or so for a life that would never end.
Lastly, Matthew gave up his tax collector’s job and got in return the job of recording for all ages, all peoples, and all nations the greatest news the world has ever had.
Galilean fishermen had little or no skill when it came to writing or putting thoughts down for future generations to ponder and pray over. Matthew did.
The day Matthew left his tax collector’s desk and followed Jesus was a day of joy, not only for Matthew but also for the entire human race.
How does all this touch us at a practical level?
First, it tells us that Jesus didn’t always choose the most savory and most likely people to be his closest associates.
He often chose the most unlikely imaginable at least in our eyes.
Second, it tells us that Jesus looks beyond what we are to what we can become.
He is not interested so much in our past as he is in our future. He is not interested so much in our liabilities as he is in our possibilities. He is not interested so much in our ability as he is in our availability.
Finally, it tells us that each of us without exception is a candidate to be called by Jesus to work with him in a special way for the spread of God’s kingdom on earth. Whether we answer that call or not is another thing. This much is certain. If we answer it, we will have to give up certain things, but we will also receive certain things in return. And what we receive will outweigh, by far, what we give up. We have Jesus’ own promise for that. He told his disciples:
[Whoever follows me] will receive a hundred times more and will be given eternal life. Matthew 19:29
Where are you going, Lord? To preach the word in Galilee? Let me travel with you!
Where are you going, Lord? To heal the sick by the sea? Let me travel with you!
Where are you going, Lord? To suffer and die on Calvary? Let me travel with you!
Where are you going, Lord? To rise and live in eternity? Let me travel with you! M.L.
Series II 10th Sunday of the Year Hosea 6:3–6; Romans 4:18–25; Matthew 9:9–13
Life sentence If Jesus is to call sinners to repentance today, it must be through our instrumentality.
In 1974 Charles Colson was sentenced to prison for his role in the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of President Nixon. In 1975 he was released from prison.
After his release, Charles Colson wrote in his book Life Sentence:
I did my time . . . I paid my debt. Now I’m free to build my new life, a more simple life . . . maybe a good job in business.
But then one night he remembered an episode that took place in Maxwell Prison, Alabama. He describes it in his book.
Some prisoners were talking in the prison day room. Suddenly, a tattooed inmate named Archie stood in front of Colson and said menacingly, “You’ll be out of here soon. What are you going to do for us?”
The day room became dead silent as everyone listened to what Colson would say.
Colson responded, “I’ll help in some way. I’d never forget this stinking place or you guys.”
Archie looked at him and said with a sneer, “They all say that. . . . Then they go out and forget.”
Colson never forgot that episode, and he never forgot those men.
He himself had undergone a radical conversion to Christ. And the more he reflected on the Gospel, the more he felt called to make the work of Jesus his full-time work.
To make a long story short, Colson set aside his own personal interests and began what is now known as Prison Fellowship. It is a Christian ministry to prisoners and their families.
Colson enlisted the help of over 120,000 volunteers in the Prison Fellowship program in the United States alone.
The activities of this program include—
• teaching Bible seminars that reach over 25,000 prisoners in over 500 of our nation’s prisons,
• providing material and spiritual support to families whose breadwinners are in jail,
• preparing spouses for the difficult life that often ensues after a prisoner is released, and
• providing spiritual support to prisoners during the critical weeks, months, and even years that follow their release.
Colson’s work with prisoners brings into sharp focus the words of Jesus in today’s gospel:
“People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick. . . . I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.” It is this work of Jesus that Colson decided to make his lifetime work. For Colson saw that if that work of Jesus is to continue in our world, it must be through Christians like himself.
The story of Charles Colson and his dedication to helping the men and women who populate our nation’s prisons also recalls the words of Jesus in the famous Last Judgment scene in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus says there:
“I was . . . in prison and you visited me. . . . [W]henever you did this for one of the least important . . . followers of mine, you did it for me!” Matthew 25:36, 40
These words, together with Jesus’ words in today’s gospel, invite us to ask ourselves what we are doing to continue Jesus’ work, not just for those in prisons of steel and concrete, but also for those in, perhaps, far worse prisons—
• prisons of hopelessness and hunger, • prisons of helplessness and homelessness, • prisons of anger and confusion.
“I have not come,” said Jesus, “to call respectable people, but outcasts.”
This brings us to our response to the words of Jesus in today’s gospel.
There is no ducking the issue. Jesus’ work must become our work, because in our world we are the only hands, feet, and heart that Jesus has.
This is the message contained in today’s Scripture readings.
This is the work to which we have been called as Christians.
This is the work that cries out for our time and our talent in our modern world.
It is the work of God’s kingdom. It is the work that Jesus gave his life to. It is the work that he gave to us, his followers, to continue.
Each one of us must heed the words of Jesus in today’s gospel and translate them into some form of concrete action in our daily lives.
No one can do this for us. We must do it ourselves.
Let’s close by praying a portion of the prayer that Colson makes at the end of his introduction to his book Life Sentence:
That the renewal in our churches turns them into mighty instruments for God’s transforming work in our society. . . .
That Christians might assault the areas of human need with the compassion of him who died on the cross for [humankind].
That a doubting cynical world will be drawn to countless examples of Christians living out their faith, caring and sacrificing for one another, and will see that this does make a difference in life.
Series III 10th Sunday of the Year Hosea 6:3–6; Romans 4:18–25; Matthew 9:9–13
Sin The cause of sin and how to defeat sin in our world.
It is kindness that I want . . . I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.” Matthew 9:13
The Catholic Digest carries a feature called “The Open Door.” It consists of firsthand stories of how people found their way into the Catholic Church. One story went something like this:
I was born the son of a Protestant minister. I married a Catholic girl in college, but did not become a Catholic because it would have hurt my parents too much.
In the seven years following our marriage, we had three children and I finished law school.
To increase my earnings, however, I did something stupid and wrong. I began to deal in cocaine big time. I was caught and sentenced to up to 50 years in prison.
In the 13th year of my prison term, I took instructions from the Catholic chaplain and entered the Church.
A year later, tragedy struck in a most cruel and devastating way. A 17-year-old drunk driver collided with, and killed, my wife, my eldest daughter, my son-in-law, and my grandson.
The sight of those four coffins in Church utterly destroyed me. I cursed God and abandoned my faith.
The priest who presided at the funeral, was touched with compassion for me.
He began visiting me regularly in prison. Eventually, with his help, I made my peace with God, and returned to my faith.
It took me another ten years, however, to write a letter of forgiveness to the young man responsible for the deaths of the four people I loved most dearly.
This tragic story dramatizes two points that emerge from today’s Gospel reading: 1) the terrible pain sin causes, and 2) what we can do about sin in our world.
Let us take a brief look at each point. First, sin and the pain it causes. Someone familiar with prisons said: “The majority of people in prison today are there because of drug- or alcohol-related crimes.”
The tragic story of the lawyer who dealt in drugs and the 17-year-old who killed four people while he was driving under the influence illustrates that statement.
The evil and the pain that resulted from that tragic story also remind us that Satan is still active in our world. They raise a vexing question: “If Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of God in his day, why is the ‘Kingdom of Satan’ still so active in our day?”
The answer is that Jesus did, indeed, inaugurate the Kingdom of God, but that the Kingdom of Satan has not yet been fully destroyed.
In other words, both the destruction of the Kingdom of Satan and the completion of God’s Kingdom are not events that take place overnight.
Rather, they involve a laborious process. This is why we continue to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom Come.”
We might compare God’s Kingdom to a plant. It is alive and growing, but it has not yet borne its intended fruit. Until it does, sin and Satan will continue to be active in our world.
This brings us to the second question. “What can we, as individuals, do about all the evil and sin in our world?” Today’s Gospel suggests three things.
First, we can hasten the defeat of evil by doing good. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans:
Do not let evil defeat you; instead, defeat evil with good. 12:21
An example of defeating evil with good is the priest’s response to the lawyer’s tragedy. He visited him regularly in prison. Those visits became the channels of grace that drew the lawyer back to the Church.
And here’s the second thing we can do to defeat evil with good.
Today’s Gospel ends with Jesus saying: “Who does the will of my Father is my brother and my mother.”
Apart from praying, in the Lord’s Prayer, that God’s will be done on earth, what might we do, concretely, to help bring about the will of God on earth?
For example, if we are a parent, can we truthfully say that we are the kind of parent that God wills us to be?
To put it in another way, what are some concrete ways, with the help of God’s grace, we can become more like the kind of parent God wills us to be?
That brings us to the third thing we can do to defeat evil with good.
Today’s readings invite us to trust in God’s forgiveness and to forgive those who have wronged us as the lawyer forgave the 17-year-old.
To put it in another way, we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” But, concretely, how are we living out this part of the Lord’s Prayer? For example, are we opening our hearts to God’s forgiveness? Or are we forgiving those who have wronged us?
In brief, then, today’s readings exhort us not only to pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom, but also to do something concrete about it.
They exhort us to defeat evil by reaching out, in a special way, to people who have been hurt, as the priest reached out to the lawyer.
Second, they exhort us to defeat evil by being more diligent in doing God’s will in our own daily lives.
Third, they exhort us to defeat evil by forgiving those who have wronged us as the lawyer forgave the young man who wronged him so grievously.
Let us close with this meditation by an unknown poet. It carries an important reminder for us:
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will. When the road you are trudging seems all uphill . . . When care is pressing down a bit, Rest if you must but don’t you quit. . . .
Often the goal is nearer than It seems to a faint and faltering man, Often the struggler has given up When he might have captured the victor’s cup.