Today’s Kalendar commemorates St. Matthew, who was a tax collector. It seems that taxes and their collection have never been popular. This was especially the case in Galilee. When Jesus called Matthew from his customs table in the village of Capernaum, He was doing something very unpatriotic. The tax collectors were agents of Roman colonial rule and so they were seen as traitors and cheats. Jesus then did something just as offensive—he accepted Matthew’s invitation to dinner. According to the customary rules of pollution avoidance, Jesus should not even be talking to Matthew, much less reclining with him and his friends in a celebratory meal, all dipping their fingers into a shared platter of stew, tearing pieces of pita bread from a common loaf.
What was going on? Jesus had reached out to Matthew in generous love and acceptance, crossing conventional boundaries of respectability, and Matthew responded with love and generosity in return. He became a disciple and invited his friends to meet Jesus. The people Matthew knew were also tax collectors and so Jesus was dining with a whole group of sinners.
That’s it. That’s how it works, even now.
Jesus reaches out to us in love that crosses all possible boundaries and limits, and we are given the opportunity to respond to His generous acceptance with love and acceptance of our own, inviting those we know to join us in sharing a meal with Him—a foretaste of the great Messianic banquet in heaven. It doesn’t matter to Jesus that we too are sinners, as were Matthew and those he knew to invite for a meal. Jesus dines in love and celebration with us today just as He did so joyfully with Matthew and his friends long ago.
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The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington