Feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle and evangelist
Capernaum had just one word on its lips – Jesus. There was no nook or cranny that did not know or speak about Him. Jesus had made this town His home and that’s not all! He had already worked more than twelve miracles here, and many were hailing Him as the Messiah.
Capernaum was a small town but not a sleepy one. You can’t be inactive when you’re situated on one of the most popular Roman highways. The Via Maris or the way of the sea was the most ancient trade route, dating from the early Bronze Age, linking Egypt with the northern empires of Syria.
The fact that this was a trade route could mean only one thing – there were tax collectors. No one disliked these tax collectors more than the Jews did. So you can quite imagine Alpheus’ disappointment when Matthew, his son, chose this as a career. It seemed fast money was the order of the day and the traditional occupations of Capernaum seemed to hold no charm.
Why could Matthew not be like Simon, Andrew, James or John? What was so wrong in honest living even if you smelled of fish the whole day? Matthew’s professional choice only added to the greying hair of Alpheus, to say nothing of the insults that he had to face.
Alpheus’ mind recalled that day when Matthew was to be named. Alpheus could only think of how blessed he was to have this child after so many years of waiting. His name would be called Mattityahu, a gift of Yahweh. But now this ‘gift’ seemed to become a liability. Alpheus could not even get his friends to enjoy his hospitality, for who would sit with Matthew’s new found tax collector friends?
Matthew had his tax booth on the main highway and collected duties on imported goods brought by farmers, merchants and caravans. Rome demanded a fixed amount to be paid by the tax collectors in advance. Rome was not concerned as to how the tax collectors recovered their money; that was their business. Matthew and his colleagues loved this system, for now they could collect not only what they paid for, but determine the profits they desired. No one dared question a tax collector, for their decisions were enforced by Roman soldiers.
Capernaum hated Matthew and he taxed them right back. But then one day all of that changed, just like that! No one was bothered about hating Matthew; suddenly there was talk of love and forgiveness. Now the highways seemed to only have foreign traders pass by, and many of them had pitched their tents in Capernaum. The hillsides and sea shores were where people were gathering and listening intently to this Rabbi called Jesus. Alpheus had joined this group too and was amazed by the miracles that he had seen. If only Matthew would join him, even for a few minutes.
Alpheus was there when the centurion appealed to Jesus for his servant. At first the crowd was angry that this Gentile had dared to enter the presence of a holy man such as Jesus, but their attitude changed when they heard the humility in the centurion’s voice. He was respectful of their traditions. He knew that to have Jesus under his roof would make Jesus ritually unclean. The Jews, hostile as they were to the centurion, were amazed that even Gentile rulers acknowledged Jesus.
Alpheus closed his eyes; if the centurion’s servant could be healed then surely Jesus could change the heart of his son, Matthew. The heart of Alpheus wept like any father, for the conversion of his child and Alpheus prayed a silent prayer. And then just like that, Jesus was walking along, He set His eyes on Matthew and called him.
That evening Matthew threw a dinner in honour of Jesus. He spoke of that electrifying moment when he got up from his desk and walked away from it all. All his life he had cheated people and now he felt compelled to cheat once more before he left and followed Jesus. He cheated satan!
Fr Warner D’Souza
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