Bottom line: Jesus can come into our lives as he came to St. Matthew - life like a physician who gives hope to a desperate patient, like spring rain that waters the dry earth.
In the first reading, the people cry out to God in their affliction - and he comes to them like the spring rain.
A veteran Maryknoll priest told about praying with people during a time of distress: they were facing an terrible drought. Being subsistence farmers, the drought meant they would have no crop - no potatoes, no barley or quinua, nothing. The grazing land was turning to straw. Their few sheep and cattle were growing thin and they would have to decide whether to butcher them or sell them. Parents, of course, were anxious about how they would feed their children in the coming year. Hoping for a miracle, they asked the priest to go with them to the top a hill and offer a Mass.
The priest admits that he was a little embarrassed because the people's faith was so much greater than his, but he accepted their invitation. It took over an hour to climb the hill. When they arrived at the top, they had a reconciliation ritual: each one asked forgiveness from God and from every other person present. The priest noticed a tiny cloud in the distance. As the Mass proceeded, the sky began to darken and - the priest swears this is true - when he did the final blessing, the skies opened. Soon the children were playing in the puddles and mud. The adults began weeping for joy - and hugging one another.
In today's Gospel, Jesus comes to the people like the spring rain. The affects are different for each person. Some run for cover, but for others it is a moment of unmatched joy. For one in particular, it was the turning point of his life. A man named Matthew had dedicated his life to collecting taxes. It was a grimy business. He got his job by selling himself out to a foreign power. He ate well, but probably did not enjoy his meals. The betrayal of his countrymen meant that he always had to watch his back. He seemed trapped, but then one day a man said to him: "Follow me." For Matthew, Jesus' call was like a burst of spring rain. It washed his soul and gave him the hope.
This year we are reading the Gospel of St. Matthew. He knew the meaning of the words, "It is mercy I desire." Mercy - or love - is not some sentimental emotion. Mercy is a gift that transforms a person's life. Matthew himself was exhibit A. He must have meditated on the verse from the Prophet Hosea: "It is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than holocausts." As a good Hebrew, Matthew understood the poetic device called parallelism. It means stating an idea in one verse, then repeating the same idea with different words. Love stands in parallel to knowledge. We cannot say that we love God unless we desire to know him. For Matthew that meant taking note of every word and action of Jesus. He kept a careful record of Jesus' teachings and miracles - and above all the narrative of Jesus' death and resurrection. I am sure you have a copy of this document in your home. It is the first book of the New Testament - the Gospel of St. Matthew.
St. Matthew is an example for us. He recognized that Jesus called him not because of his outstanding resume. On the contrary, he was the last person you would expect Jesus to call. Jesus did not approach him like a talent scout, but like a physician noticing a particularly desperate case. If your soul is beset by some humiliating condition that just won't go away, if you feel yourself drained and weary, St Matthew tells us what to do: Turn your disadvantage into an advantage. "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do." To need Jesus - and to know that you need him - is a tremendous grace.
Jesus can come into our lives as he came to St. Matthew - like a physician who gives hope to a desperate patient, like spring rain that waters the dry earth.
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