As Christ begins His public ministry in Galilee, He preaches, heals and calls His Apostles; because His teachings threaten the power and practices of the Pharisees (“Separated Ones”), they seek to find ways to condemn Him. Relentless in His desire to spread His Gospel, Christ goes out to engage people and to recruit Levi, also called Matthew.

Jewish tax collectors were despised by Jews as sinners for over-collecting and for collaboration with the occupying Romans. Despite the profound stigma, as Christ passes by Matthew the tax collector, Christ commands him to “Follow me.” Hearing, Matthew gets up, leaves everything and follows Christ. Later, Matthew holds a feast at his home to honor Christ and invites many tax collectors and other sinners.

The Pharisees and scribes, afraid to challenge Christ directly, go to the disciples and seek to denigrate Christ by accusing Him of eating with “tax collectors and sinners.” Hypocrites, the Pharisees and scribes are also there, eating Matthew’s food with the “tax collectors and sinners.” As always, Christ is aware of the schemes of men. He publicly rebukes the Pharisees with a powerful assertion of His authority, saying, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” The Pharisees, blind to their own sins, do not recognize that they themselves are also “sick” and should repent; instead, later they will plot to kill the Son of God.

1)  Divine Genius, Jesus selects Matthew, a shady tax collector, recognizing both Matthew’s inner spiritual hunger and brilliant recording-keeping skills that Matthew uses to write the Gospel of Matthew. Later, Matthew is martyred while offering Mass by the King of Ethiopia because Matthew had rebuked the King’s lustful pursuit of his own niece (who was a nun!). Reflect on Christ’s excellent decision to call Matthew.

2) Christ’s call to Matthew leads to a radical conversion to instantaneously give up everything and follow Him. During Lent, renew your understanding of Conversion (CCC 1423, 1427-1433) and conduct a rigorous Examination of Conscience and go to Confession.

3) Christ’s words are often cherry-picked to support sinful positions; some Catholics selectively use Christ’s words to defend intolerance and some who oppose the Church use Christ’s words to support sin and to accuse Catholics of intolerance. During Lent, reflect upon Christ’s Merciful Outreach to Sinners (CCC 545, 588-589) and pray for Christ to give you the wisdom and courage to more fully demonstrate Christ’s truth and mercy to all.