By Denise Trull
I always consider him the saint who battled and overcame the sin of "hob knobbery” - that desire to only mix with the rich and influential.
Matthew was Jewish, and the Jews in his city were poor, some probably illiterate, badly dressed, and perhaps smelling of fish.
Matthew probably had a deep seated penchant for beauty: beautiful clothes, good food, lovely surroundings. The Romans were well dressed, glib, dined only on the best food, smelled of perfumed oil, were pleasant to be around albeit in a surface sort of way. He was probably witty and had innate good taste, so they tolerated his presence.
Sensing his good fortune at being accepted into their elite company, he made it his purpose to be one of them, in the only way he could; as a tax collector.
He probably got what he wanted. Important Romans probably came for dinner, drank fine wine with him, and laughed languidly with him over the exploits of the rabble fishermen who came to Matthew's collection house door; at their drollness and bumpkin ways.
And in this smooth, languid way Matthew betrayed his brother Jews and their faith. Hob Knobbery, Status Seeking, Social climbing. These things have led quite pleasantly and graciously to the greatest sins both then and in our time. Envy, betrayal, exclusion, materialism.
We all still need to carefully examine our intentions when, for example, we choose to belong to the best prep schools...is it just for the status? Or perhaps the right parishes with all the "programs" and the coolest youth group that has a waiting list to get in to. Are we doing all this just to see and be seen?
Do we write checks to poor parishes with an attitude of condescension never really recognizing the real dignity and brave holiness of the people who live and work there? Would we ever visit them? Do we only buy certain clothes, certain cars, certain houses in exclusive neighborhoods just to feel superior and to assure ourselves that we have ‘arrived’? Are we envious of those who do live this way when we cannot? None of us are immune to it, this love of the world. We always need to be watchful. It insinuates, it creeps in, this sin, almost secretly. Under the guise of beautiful things.
But true beauty doesn't lie there. It lies in the Gospel message that Jesus brought one fateful day. And Matthew - perhaps suddenly feeling the overwhelming emptiness of status as he stared out the window of his counting house and rested his tired chin on his ring bedecked hand - wanted nothing more than to lay it down, this constant, shifting thing that never brought contentment. And this man from Nazareth, who had dusty feet, and probably smelled like the fishermen he called friends. He said “Follow me” and Matthew left it all in a pile and went. He might not have even known why, but it was a certainty that no ‘thing’ had ever made him feel this happy.
He probably learned to eat like the rabble, dress in old tunics, and feel dust on his manicured feet. I am sure he missed his fine linen, jewels, and soft beds for a while. But at the same time, he probably could not explain this absolute freedom of owning nothing and casting off the weight of human respect. No matter. Every time Jesus caught His eye, he knew. He had found the pearl of great price, that pearl no Roman had ever offered his heart. Peace and joy and a place in the Kingdom of Heaven.
He did not forget his brother Jews. He wrote them a Gospel, perhaps so they would understand that he was sorry for denying their brotherhood back in his old Capernaum days. A peace offering. The story of Salvation - his and theirs, perhaps written in a boat that smelled comfortingly like fish.