I am sure that most of you remember the children’s game, “Simon says.” Simon says, tap the top of your head. Simon says, pull your left ear. Come on, I am sure most of you know how to play.
Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Matthew. One of the things that St. Matthew is most famous for is his call by Jesus. How he was a tax collector, a public sinner, but once he was called by Jesus, Matthew left everything and followed Him. But this was not like a game of “Simon Says,” where Matthew just followed where Jesus went. Rather, Matthew was transformed by his encounter with Jesus. He wanted to think, talk, and act like Jesus. Of course he was not always perfect in thinking, talking and acting like Jesus – not many are – but he really did his best.
After his response to Jesus’ call, St. Matthew threw a kind of going away party for himself, and of course he invited his friends over to meet Jesus. Now Matthew’s friends were SINNERS! Of course, that the case for all of us – we are sinners and our friends are sinners. Yet the Pharisees were shocked that Jesus was eating with sinners. Jesus reminded them that God wants mercy more than sacrifice.
It was mercy that moved St. Matthew to undergo such a radical transformation; leaving behind his life of sin in order to follow Jesus. I learned an interesting fact about St. Matthew today. Despite all the time that I have spent reading the Scriptures and studying about them, I never realized this. In Mark Gospel (2:14), St. Mark describes St. Matthew (whom he calls Levi) as being a son of Alphaeus. Later St. Mark describes St. James the Less, as also being a son of Alphaeus (3:18). Now, both St. Matthew and St. James could have both had fathers’ who name was Alphaeus, but many of the early Church Fathers believed that they were brothers. If that is true, then it is likely that James first introduced his “sinner” brother to Jesus. James was showing mercy to his brother, but introducing his shamefully, sinful to Jesus who James recognized as the one who fulfilled the deepest desire of the human heart. Then, having experienced the mercy of Jesus, St. Matthew also wanted to share that mercy to his friends, who were sinners like him.
What about us? Have we allowed our encounter with Jesus to transform our lives, or are we simply playing “Simon Says” with Jesus – doing merely the external duties of living the Christian life? What do we have to leave behind to truly follow Jesus? Pride? Anger? Hurt? Resentment? Maybe there are people in our families whom we are embarrassed by because of the way they live their lives. Do we just ignore them, or do we invite them to meet Jesus, to experience His mercy?