Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13
We celebrate the conversion of St. Paul each year as a special feast day, but his conversion was from hypocritical Pharisaism to Christianity. Both before and after his conversion, he could be called a “religious person”. For St. Paul, we could say that the only real change was his knowledge of who Jesus Christ was and what he had done. Of course, this knowledge changed everything, but his conversion was from being a good Pharisee to being a good Christian.
St. Matthew, in contrast, whose feast we celebrate today, was a sinner. All the Apostles were sinners of course, but St. Matthew was a sinner as the world sees these things. He was a tax collector. Since the taxes were going to the Roman government that was persecuting Israel, this means that Matthew was a man willing to live on the margins of society in exchange for money. Matthew was the kind of person whom people spit on as he walked down the street. He was the kind of person whom parents warned their children about. He was a traitor and a thief. In exchange for this status, he was one of the wealthier men in his society.
But Matthew wanted more than the life he was leading. Jesus merely said to him, “Follow me.” We know that Jesus does not control the free will of the people he speaks to. Matthew was not forced to get up and follow Jesus, yet he did so without deliberation. Clearly, Matthew had been waiting for Jesus to come, even if he did not know who or what he was waiting for. Those words were the impetus he needed to do what he had obviously wanted to do all along: leave behind his life of sin and start over.
Jesus represented that opportunity to Matthew, and he represents that opportunity to us. He is always calling us. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is preventing us from letting go of sin and following Jesus. It may be hard, or rather, it will be hard. Matthew walked away from a job, from a pile of money, from friends, probably from a girlfriend too, and followed Jesus. Sometimes there is no time to just take care of a few things, no time to wait for a convenient exit; sometimes we just have to follow Jesus and trust that he can make us as happy as we have always wished we could be.