There was a man who had two sons. He approached the elder and said, “Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.” The son replied, “I am on my way, sir;” but he never went. Then the man came to his second son, and said the same thing. This son said in reply, “No, I will not,” but afterward he regretted it and went…
The Gospel of Matthew relates this story known as the Parable of the Two Sons. No doubt Matthew, known as Levi, had taken the words of Jesus to heart. Born in Galilee, Matthew had been a tax collector prior to meeting Jesus. Tax collectors were despised because they collected taxes for the Roman occupational forces. That was bad enough, but they also were known to collect more than the tax was supposed to be so they could pocket the extra money. They often had a reputation for threatening those who did not pay what they wanted.
When Jesus called Matthew to follow him, Matthew immediately left his customs table where he had been collecting taxes and went with Jesus. A little later, he threw a great feast in his home and invited many of his fellow tax collectors as well as others to dinner. Jesus, too, was invited and went. The Scribes and Pharisees were disgusted and asked Jesus why he and his disciples were eating and drinking with tax collectors and others who did not observe the law. In Luke’s Gospel, we hear Jesus’ response: “I have not come to invite the self-righteous to a change of heart, but sinners.”
As we know, Matthew left the life of collecting taxes, learned from Jesus, and spent the rest of his life teaching the Good News to others. What we learn from Matthew’s life is that Jesus wants our obedience, not in word only like the first son, but in the way we live our lives. Following Jesus, we can see, does not mean saying we are Christians. It means being what Jesus calls us to be. What a hopeful Gospel! No matter what sins we may have committed, no matter how many times we have refused to work in the vineyard of the Lord, we can repent and be forgiven. After all, if we cannot see our failings and think we have no need for forgiveness, then we cannot be with Jesus who came to call sinners. Matthew understood this. His life’s change must have been a joyful one for him because he was eager for everyone to know Jesus’ message.
According to Tradition, Matthew witnessed the Ascension of Jesus. Then he preached the Good News to the Jewish Community in Judea before going to other countries. He died a martyr, probably in what is Ethiopia today. In art, he is often depicted as a winged man, one of the four creatures from the Book of Revelation. He is pictured as a man because he began his Gospel with a list of the people who were Jesus’ human predecessors and stressed the incarnation. He certainly understood how people can be sinful. But he had wings because he saw how humans, with God’s grace, have an ability to soar into holiness. Jesus helped Matthew, while still a sinner, to know he was loved and called. That gave him courage to preach the Good News for the rest of his life.
St. Matthew is today’s Ornament of Grace.
OBSERVING THE BEAUTIFUL ORNAMENTS
Can you give an example of a time when you found yourself doing as the elder son did, saying yes to Jesus and then forgetting or refusing to take action?
Has your love for someone that others might consider unlovable ever helped that person to find goodness in himself/herself and new purpose in life as Jesus did for Matthew?