The power of vocation.
Jesus saw a man named Matthew sitting at a toll booth and said to him: “Follow me!” He got up and followed him. Then, as Jesus sat at a table in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said: “It is not the healthy who needs a physician, but the sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.'”I did not come to call the righteous but sinners
The harvest is beginning. The crop enriches the man who feels the fruits of his labor. We also know another harvest – the spiritual harvest, which is also not negligible.
We have listened to a portion of the Holy Gospel according to Matthew, and from this stanza, we learn that when the Lord Jesus was passing through the land of Israel, he saw sitting at a toll booth a specific tax collector named Matthew. And the Lord Jesus went up to this tax collector and challenged him: “Follow me!” (Mt. 9:9). And the evangelist then goes on to say that the tax collector got up and followed him.
It is an exciting event that St. Matthew the Evangelist has described for us. For the tax collector, the public sinner whom the Lord called into His service, is Matthew, who afterward wrote the message of Christ. Indeed, this tax collector, Matthew, had already heard of Christ, for the rumor of him was spreading throughout the whole region, for Jesus was walking about and doing good to all. He healed the blind, raised the dead, forgave sinners… And now this Jesus the Creator appears before him, and the tax collector, whom the people thought was a great sinner, is called by the Lord to follow him. Even with sinners, he receives hospitality, as if to the anger of the people, who condemned such actions of Jesus. But most against Jesus are the Pharisees, who criticize Jesus and reproach his disciples, saying, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mt. 9:11).
They cannot understand this. Perhaps they thought Jesus should associate with them, for they considered themselves true and religious Israelites! But the Lord Jesus, by His Spirit, looked them over and saw that they were full of lies and hypocrisy. Therefore, He often calls them whitewashed tombs, turning away from them; He calls sinners to Himself.
He comes to comfort the sick and infirm. Therefore, he also says to the Pharisees: “It is not healthy who need a physician, but the sick” (Mt 9:12). Jesus thus emphasizes that He comes into the world to fulfill His Father’s will, lift, dust off, and cleanse all of us who have fallen into the mire of sin, into the bondage of darkness, into the power of the evil spirit. That is why he calls us to follow him, to follow him, to walk in his way. He calls us like the tax collector in the Gospel.
I don’t think we stand outside this calling. These words we heard about the calling of Matthew, the tax collector, apply to us as well. For us, and all of us, without distinction. The Lord Jesus comes to each of us and calls us with the exact words, “Follow me!” (Mt 9:9).
Not all who hear and obey this voice resolve to follow him. Something is holding them back, preventing them from saying that decisive word, the word of permission and determination. Many of us are held back and hindered by the riches of this world, by worldly fame and careers. That is why many of us prefer to remain down-to-earth and are unwilling to determine to leave it all behind and go to the heights.
Matthew, captivated by the words of Christ, gets up, leaves his myth behind, leaves everything behind, and Jesus becomes the most important thing to him. He repents his previous straying and is led by new ideas, by the light of Jesus’ actual teachings.
It is essential, dear brothers and sisters, that we also give Jesus the central place in our lives, throw away everything that pleases us, and let ourselves be led by Jesus, by the light of Jesus, and walk on the proper path. The Lord Jesus wants us to follow him; he wants us to walk in his footsteps, even though it is often a difficult path. He wants us to belong only to him, for we are his flock, redeemed by his precious blood. He wants all the sheep to be together so that none of these baskets is lost. He calls us good and wholesome pasture. And what do we often do? We try to turn aside from this promising path; we don’t want to be led by the good shepherd, the Lord Jesus. We don’t want to escape our evil ways from the lousy pasture.
But we see quite a different example in the tax collector Matthew and quite a different attitude in this matter in the youngest brother of St. Bernard. From the lives of the saints, many of you will know that St. Bernard, with his brothers, chose to serve the Lord God in solitude. Before they went into seclusion, however, these brothers wanted to say goodbye to their youngest brother, who was only a boy. They said to him: “Stay with God, our dear brother Nivard. We are going to serve the Lord God. Therefore, we leave you your father’s mansion, all the property, fields, forests, and meadows; this will be yours from now on.
When Nivard, the youngest brother, saw his brothers dressed for the journey, he burst into tears and cried out with tears in his eyes: “Not so, my brothers. This is not a fair division. You want God’s life, and you leave me to the earth? I also want heaven, and therefore I also go with you!” The brothers, moved by their youngest brother’s speech, gave away all their possessions to the poor and took Brother Nivard with them.
See, dear brothers and sisters, how boldly this boy Nivard chose God’s life when he should have chosen between heaven and earth. Wouldn’t most of us who glory for Christian choose the land and the riches of this world rather than the life of God, Himself?
Indeed, following in the footsteps of Christ is often very difficult, and perhaps that is why many of us are afraid of this arduous and thorny path. But God sorely tries His faithful ones to test our love for Him this way. For just as steel is refined and hardened in the fire, so it is with us. We must purify ourselves in the love of God in the complex trials of life.
In an episode about St. Teresa of Avila, it is said that one day, walking across a river, a strong water current swept her away, and she began to drown. Here the Lord Jesus appears to her, and in great fear, she accuses him, “Lord, why do you let me suffer like this?” And the Lord Jesus says to her: “Teresa, this is how I test my friends.” Then Teresa answers him, “I understand now, Lord, why you have so few friends, so few who follow you.”
Yes, God tests those who follow him; he tests those who are determined to follow him. Our Slovak saying sums it up very nicely: “Whom the Lord God loves, He visits with the cross.” Even though the Lord God permits, but never forsakes. Therefore, my dear ones, let us not be afraid to embark on this journey. It will be a difficult and arduous journey, but it will be a journey that leads people to the eternal goal, to the attainment of the Lord God Himself. And He is helping us on this journey. Well, what have we to fear? What have we to fear? For behind us stands not a weak man, but God Almighty Himself!
We already know what the Lord Jesus asks of us and what he offers us, so let us follow him and choose him! Here, with the priest, let us offer our hearts to Jesus at this Mass. Let us consecrate ourselves to him; let us become his best friends. Let us leave everything else behind, for it is secondary. Let Him stand first in our lives from now on. Instead, we seek God’s kingdom, and everything else will be added to us.
Let us ask Jesus to give us the strength to persevere in this resolution, are his alone, and never fail Him in our lives.
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