Former tax collector gives up riches in exchange for great wealth
Annual Scripture Day highlights the Gospel of Matthew
At the annual Scripture Day, Oct. 19 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe, presenter Father Seán Charles Martin took the audience on an insightful and sometimes humorous tour of the life of Jesus through the words of St. Matthew.
The day was also presented in Spanish by Father John Fahey-Guerra, C.Ss.R.
In learning a bit about the saint’s life, one begins to understand the depth at which Matthew was moved by the Savior. Matthew was a tax collector, and in those days tax collectors took not just what was due the Roman government. According to Father Martin, whatever else the tax collector could pry out of the pockets of the public they could legally use to pad their own wallets.
Power and money at the expense of the populace turned the tax collector into little more than a crook in the eyes of the public, which is why when Jesus showed Matthew friendship, even going so far as to dine with him, the Pharisees weren’t pleased.
When they confronted Jesus, asking why he associated with men such as Matthew, he responded, “Because people who are well don’t need a doctor.”
“Jesus is talking to the Scribes, the teachers of Israel, telling them they have to go back to school,” Father Martin said.
Unlike last year’s presentation on St. Paul -- also presented by Father Martin, associate professor of Biblical Studies at Aquinas Institute of Theology in Saint Louis -- he chose not to delve deeply into the character of the apostle who authored the first book of the Gospels. Instead, he focused more on the writing itself -- a writing, he would attest throughout the day, which contained a great deal of symbolism.
Bad guys of the Bible are pretty clearly stated, and Herod is no exception.
“Herod is symbolically compared to a pharaoh” Father Martin said. Both sought the extermination of baby boys to halt a major upheaval.
Meanwhile, John the Baptist is presented as a “modern day Elijah,” considered to be the greatest of all prophets.
“It was a sign of extraordinary hope,” Father Martin explained, “the reappearance of someone in the desert who looked like Elijah.”
The fact that John lived off the land was a symbolical statement that the “land belonged to all, not only to Herod.” John and Jesus were friends, they were cousins, and they had very different ways of preaching. John, Father Martin said, was “apocalyptic,” teaching that God would first destroy the world and then rebuild it. Jesus, on the other hand, maintained that God’s intervention didn’t mean destruction, it meant “completion.”
Many of the words of Christ were designed to be easily memorized, Father Martin explained, even if that meant a bit of exaggeration of Jesus’ part. Noting Jesus’ admonition that we “pluck out our eye” or “cut off our hand” if it causes us to sin, Father Martin asked those gathered how many of them had ever sinned with their eyes or hands, and everyone’s hands went up. “Yet, we’ve all got both our hands,” he said to laughter. “Are we doing something wrong?”
He compared the statement to an angry parent telling a mischievous child, “I’m going to kill you!”
“What could a child do that’s bad enough to render execution by one’s own parent? Jesus was using exaggeration to get his [message across].”
Other statements such as, “No one can serve two masters,” or “tomorrow will take care of itself,” were said not only to teach an invaluable lesson, but to be easily committed to memory.
By way of the words of St. Matthew, Father Martin described a savior who not only was the embodiment of compassion, but who also, by the way, was a “genius.”
“Leprosy,” Father Martin said, “was more than a disorder of the body, it had social consequences. The diagnosis meant they were condemned to be exiled. It could result in their house coming down. They were thought to be unclean. They were thought unfit to worship God.
“Clearly Jesus rejects this. He didn’t believe that unclean was contagious. That was his genius.”
And it’s a good thing, considering that leprosy was not as we know it today. Father Martin explained that even a bad case of zits could get somebody labeled as having leprosy.
In the end, it was 30 pieces of silver paid by Judas to the Roman soldiers that finally led to Christ’s death on the cross -- the price of a “common slave.”
“It compounds the horribleness that he sold Jesus for such a trivial amount,” Father Martin said.
But the death of Jesus meant life for the world, Matthew wrote, adding that Jesus was “first fruit” -- as in a garden or farm – pledging “our own eventual resurrection.”
Among those at the day-long presentation was Sister Irene Hartman, OP, who described the day as being “long to remember.”
“To have Father Seán Martin, a master teacher, unfold Matthew’s Gospel -- that was an invaluable gift and an enriching experience. Hearing ‘The Gospel according to Matthew’ Sunday after Sunday during the next church year will elicit new meanings and thoughts. It was good to follow Jesus through the temptations and the healings, to witness his miracles, to hear the teachings, and to walk the way to Calvary and beyond.
“Special thanks to the diocese and all who planned and made the day wonderful.”