A HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF THE HOLY

APOSTLE AND EVANGELIST MATTHEW

 

(Nov. 16/29)

 

About Saint Matthew’s Calling and What It Teaches Us

 

        Brothers and sisters!

 

        Since the Church of Christ celebrates the memory of Saint Matthew today, let us honor the great Apostle and Evangelist, and benefit our souls by reviewing and reflecting on his calling by the Lord.  Let us consider how the Saviour brought him out of darkness into the light and from slavery into freedom, and let us also meditate on what this teaches us.

        Once, when the Lord was in Capernaum, He passed by a tax-booth where the publican or tax-collector Matthew was sitting.  He told Matthew, Follow Me,[1] and Matthew straightway left all, rose up, and followed Him.[2]  Since the Jews hated the publicans for their greed and dishonesty, for working for the Romans, and because most publicans led an impious, dissolute life, Matthew was overjoyed that the renowned Teacher and Wonderworker had deigned to show an interest in him.  To express his gratitude, he made a great feast in his house[3] in honor of Jesus, to which he invited all his friends.  The banquet could not escape the notice of the local scribes and Pharisees, and when they saw Christ and His disciples eating with publicans, they complained to the disciples, saying, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?[4] 

        To this Jesus Himself replied, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.  I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.[5] 

        To this narrative in the Gospel, the Life of Saint Matthew adds the following.  From the time that the Lord called him, Matthew not only became a disciple of Jesus Christ, but was deemed worthy to be numbered among the Twelve Apostles.  Because of Matthew’s dishonorable profession and way of life before his conversion, in their accounts of the events of that day, the Holy Evangelists Mark and Luke call Matthew by his little-known second name, “Levi,” obscuring his identity so that the apostolic rank would not be derided.  But Matthew, out of profound humility, in his own Gospel openly refers to himself by his first name.  By this he acknowledges his former sinful life before the whole world and thereby offers other sinners an example of humble repentance, assisting them to turn to Christ and not be ashamed to confess their sins.

        And now, brothers and sisters, having reviewed the story of Saint Matthew’s calling according to the Gospel and the Lives of the saints, we must turn to the second half of our task, asking ourselves what the calling of this apostle teaches us.

        First, the calling of Saint Matthew instructs us to assign serious value to God’s love and care for us sinners.  The Lord said to Matthew, Follow Me and, if we have not entirely extinguished its voice by repeatedly ignoring it, He frequently tells us the same through our conscience.  “Follow Me: He says, “be done with your bad habits, your perverse disposition, and your waste of invaluable time.  Turn to Me; follow Me.”  Matthew’s calling reminds us that God’s love is constantly overshadowing us, constantly watching over us, like a mother watching over her infant in its cradle.  God’s love and care never forgot the publican Matthew, and it never forgets us.  So, let us be truly thankful to the Lord Who desires not “the death of the sinner, but that he should return and live.”

        Second, Matthew teaches us beautifully how when a person hears the voice of God, he should abandon everything in order to follow the Lord.  However, when we hear this voice (and we all have heard it repeatedly, for the Heavenly Father never abandons His children), how do we respond?  Do we forsake everything in order to follow Christ?  Do we sell everything so that we can buy the pearl of great price?[6]  By asking this, I do not mean to imply that to follow Christ everyone must literally abandon house and family and employment -- our external and often essential and inescapable circumstances of life.  What I mean is, do we abandon everything unessential which in any way hinders our following Christ?  Have we put off the old man, with his manner of thinking, his opinions, his pursuits, and his entertainments, and put on in his place the new life of grace?  Have we given up our own will and surrendered to the will of God, accepting every difficulty and trial as part of the Lord’s purpose for us?  Have we embraced suffering and self-discipline for Christ?  Have prayer, fasting, attendance at the divine services, and reading the Scriptures and other soul-saving books become dear to us?  Are we happy to labor for God’s temple and support it, and happy to give alms to the pious monastics and the Lord’s poor?  Do we hate and struggle ceaselessly against our vices and temptations, and repent sincerely when we lapse?  Do we ardently pursue the virtues for Christ’s sake, not so much because we are afraid of punishment, but because we love the Lord and wish to please Him?

        I fear, brothers and sisters, that many of us almost always, and almost all of us quite often, when we hear Christ bidding us in our hearts, Follow Me! remain deaf to His voice and go on living exactly as before.  But Matthew the publican and saint teaches us that we must not act thus; that when the Lord calls us, we must not continue running in place like a frantic mouse on a wheel, trapped in a cage, but must forsake our old habits, old ways of thinking, old ways of speaking, old ways of doing.  We must rise up; we must follow Christ.  We must follow His ways, His statutes; and we must lead the devout life His Bride, our mother the Holy Orthodox Church teaches.

        Dear Christians, let us listen to what the example of Saint Matthew is telling us.  Like him, let us rise up immediately.  Let us hearken to the voice of God waking us from the sleep of sin, and calling us to the life of repentance and devotion.   And let us follow after the One Who promises, Him that cometh to Me, I will in no wise cast out.[7]  Amen.

 

[1] Matt. 9:9; Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27

[2] Luke 5:28

[3] Luke 5:29

[4] Matt. 9:11

[5] Luke 5:31-32

[6] Matt. 13:46

[7] John 6:37