Gift of God
Fr. Scott A. Haynes
The four Evangelists were very frequently represented in ancient art by symbols. The earliest of these artistic representations can be seen in the Catacombs and upon the walls of the oldest existing churches. St. Jerome linked to the vision of Ezekiel to the Evangelists and assigned each Evangelist to a particular symbol. To St. Matthew was given the cherub or winged human face; to St. Mark the lion; to St. Luke the ox, and to St. John the eagle.
There are reasons for these assignments. The more human symbol is appropriate to the St. Matthew, the Evangelist who traces the human ancestry of Christ; the lion to St. Mark, whose gospel of Jesus Christ begins with “the voice of one crying in the wilderness;” the ox to St. Luke, who writes especially of the priesthood and of sacrifice, of which the ox is symbolical; and the eagle to St. John, whose inspiration soared to the loftiest heights, and enabled him to reach the paramount human perception of the dual nature of Jesus Christ.
On the feast of St. Matthew (September 21st), we recall that his name in Hebrew means “gift of God.” As the author of the first of the four Gospels, St. Matthew was a publican – a tax collector – and the story of his call to become an Apostle reminds us that Christ excludes no one from His friendship. Tax collectors were considered public sinners, and we can hear an echo of the scandal caused by the Lord’s decision to associate with such men in His declaration that He came “not to call the just, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13).
Christ calls St. Matthew the tax collector.
Pope Benedict XVI teaches us a valuable lesson as we honor St. Matthew on his feast day, as he explains that when we accept the Lord’s tender mercies, we realize that no one is excluded, especially those who are most needful of God’s forgiveness. The Holy Father teaches further:
“Matthew’s ready response to the Lord’s call also shows that following Christ means leaving behind, sometimes at great cost, everything that is incompatible with true discipleship and embarking upon a new life. Through his example and the words of his Gospel, St. Matthew constantly invites us to respond with joy to the ‘good news’ of God’s saving mercy.”
Pope Benedict XVI explains that St. Matthew responds to Christ’s call without hesitation, as Scripture records:
“And when Jesus passed on from hence, he saw a man sitting in the custom house, named Matthew; and he saith to him: Follow me. And he rose up and followed Him” (Matthew 9:9).
When St. Matthew followed Jesus, he immediately forsook everything he knew. As a tax collector whose life was intertwined with extortion and dishonorable men, he left behind his reliable source of income. The Holy Father further remarks that St. Matthew immediately grasped the necessity of forsaking his disreputable ways to live in closeness with God. Pope Benedict writes:
“Applying this to the present is easily understood: even today, attachment to things that are incompatible with following Jesus – like dishonestly acquired wealth – is not admissible.”
As we look at this snapshot of St. Matthew, we see that Christ did not hesitate to call a man judged to be “a public sinner” to follow Him. When the sanctimonious religious leaders are scandalized by Jesus’ appearance with “publicans and sinners,” Our Lord and Savior teaches:
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” (Matthew 9:12).