We’ve heard it a thousand times: “Go out to all the world and tell the good news” (Mark 16:15). But what is this “Good News” that we are supposed to be proclaiming? At the heart our Catholic Faith is all about Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, who loves us and for us was born, lived, died and is risen.
In his forthcoming book Meeting Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Word, Monsignor J Brian Bransfield shows us how Jesus invites each of us to a personal relationship of discipleship. As we spend time with Jesus, we get to know him, and we are drawn to follow him and tell others about him.
Sr. Sean Mayer, FSP
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Mt 9:9–13, NAB)
So far, it has been an ordinary workday at the customs post and table. Over the years the shadow of many people fell over his table. They all came, young and old, healthy and sick, wealthy and poor. They had one thing in common: they always walked away poorer, while Matthew walked away richer. He dismissed their excuses and took their money. Not that Matthew ever really noticed any of them, for he had other things on his mind. People were numbers, and the numbers fit in well-defined columns. Matthew’s ledger had many columns to be filled in, debts to settle, and money to be made. And where money takes over, there is little room for anything—or anyone—else. But today, a new shadow falls over Matthew’s tax table. Another account is about to come due.
As Jesus passed on from there . . . (Mt 9:9)
Consider the contrast. Jesus is on the move while Matthew sits still. It is as if the new movement of Jesus and the old stubbornness of Matthew collide, sparking new life. Jesus is near, but the moment will not last long. The Lord moves in slow motion, the din of the crowd fades away. Time itself begins to watch. The tables are about to turn.
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. (Mt 9:9)
And in this prolonged moment, something happens. Jesus sees Matthew and says, “Follow me” (Mt 9:9). From Matthew’s immediate response—“And he got up and followed him” (Mt 9:9)—it is clear that Matthew also saw Jesus. And in this mutual seeing something occurs. Something instantaneous takes place. Matthew totters on the brink of death-life. In this moment Matthew has a personal experience of God and sees that only in Jesus can Matthew accomplish all that God asks of him. In this daily moment he sees his life in its real context. The call is the free initiative of God’s grace that illuminates Matthew’s entire and total existence. Matthew makes an act of faith in response to the word of Jesus. Saint Paul tells us, “So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). The act of living faith is not a narrow, robot-like automatic response as if Matthew’s freedom is overridden, replaced, or destroyed. Quite the contrary, the look of Jesus enters Matthew’s heart, past all of its history, pain, and sin, and pierces it to the core. He has “shone in our hearts” (2 Cor 4:6).
Saint Theresa Benedicta of the Cross explains that at certain moments in our life, through God’s action we perceive through supernatural light a spiritual vision that is “much sharper and far clearer than corporeal vision. It is like the sudden illumination by a bolt of lightning, that in a dark night allows things to stand out clear and distinct for a moment. Under the influence of the spiritual light, the objects seen are impressed so deeply on the soul that every time she adverts to them by the grace of God, she beholds them as she did the first time.” The experience of God reveals a truth, which Matthew begins to adhere to with his entire person.
The look of Jesus did something in the heart of Matthew. Something about that look of Jesus on Matthew reaches beyond his deepest wounds, struggles, and conflicts—and finds his original freedom. No one had ever looked at Matthew like this: not those who curse him as they pay the tax, not the strong arms who back him up, not the hangers-on who tag along for the party. No one. This is the genuine look from the triune depths of God himself. If Matthew had but looked once into the eyes of the poor he took advantage of, he would have seen there the reflection of this radiant light from the eyes of the Lord.
That look of Jesus gives shape to Matthew’s very existence. The tables are turning. The tax table is still in front of Matthew, but it might as well be miles away. Its contents no longer add up to anything. He is already called. He is rejuvenated, made young again, by the act of living faith. In this initial moment he cannot wholly comprehend this call, which has reached into and prevailed in his very depths. His life begins to unfold anew. Matthew rises, steps away from the tax table, and entrusts himself to the persistent fidelity of Christ.
Matthew is used to calling people to account. But now comes a great reversal: “Follow me” (Mt 9:9, NAB). The Gospel tells us that Matthew “got up and followed him” (Mt 9:9, NAB). He leaves the tax table that used to be the cornerstone of his commerce. Now Matthew, like Jesus, is moving. Now Matthew, like Jesus, “passes by.”
The look of Jesus and his word have summoned Matthew, the real Matthew, who is now forever changed. He walks away from the money, which is to say, in terms of Christian discipleship, he walks away richer.
Matthew follows Jesus, who leads the way. But, ironically, Matthew follows Jesus to Matthew’s own house: “And as he sat at dinner in the house . . .” (Mt 9:10). He who is the Way, knows the way. Nothing is hidden from him. And the way forms a procession: “many tax collectors and sinners came” (Mt 9:10). Perhaps they came because it was the usual time for the party with their wealthy friend. Perhaps they came because no one else would have them. And now, Jesus and Matthew sit with them at table. Again, the action of Jesus is always first: “And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples” (Mt 9:10). Before, only Matthew sat at the tax table. He was in control, or so he thought. Now, with Jesus, all sit at the table in Matthew’s house. The look and the call of Jesus bring unity. Jesus not only calls Matthew but sits with him. Jesus not only calls us, he also sits with us.
The call of God in our life is a lesson in the unexpected. After all, being God, it is his prerogative to surprise us. For example, God often chooses the unlikely person. When looking for a king to replace Saul, God didn’t choose the strong, robust older sons of Jesse. No. God chose Jesse’s youngest son, David, a shepherd who played the harp. Jesus, the Son of God, did not choose the best orators, the most highly educated, or the most convincing speakers to announce his Kingdom. Rather, Jesus chose fisherman and tax collectors to proclaim his message.
God calls us. His plans are often different from our own. The call of Saint Matthew seems very direct and immediate. Certainly, he would have his painful moments and times of trial. The summons of the Lord often involves struggle and testing, making the path arduous and grueling. The light of the Lord shines through the darkest of storms and the densest of struggles.
Books by the Author:
About the Author:
Reverend J. Brian Bransfield is a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. He currently serves as the Associate General Secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Fr. Bransfield received his doctorate in moral theology from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. Prior to his current appointment, he served as professor of Moral Theology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. He also wrote The Human Person: According to John Paul II.
About the Book Meeting Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Word
“Steal a few moments…and spend them with God.” An unguided personal retreat, Meeting Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Word will draw you into conversation with Jesus. With simple, but rich language, Mgr. Bransfield opens the door to where Jesus lives in Scripture, and welcomes you in.