Today’s find: Neophytes

We marked the feast of St. Matthew on Saturday, and reportedly, that title – ‘saint’ – would have surprised most of the people from polite society who knew the man in his day.

Matthew, famously, made his living as a tax collector. That profession was probably even less popular then than the IRS is today…because, in essence, tax collectors worked for the enemy. They were collaborators with the occupying Roman army.

Suffice it to say, no one who knew Matthew would have expected him to become an evangelist – a bearer of Good News. I suspect he probably wouldn’t have expected such a career change of himself, either…at least, not without a considerable amount of study and training.

But that’s not how things worked out – a point that  crystallized for me when I read a commentary on the story of Matthew’s conversion written by the Venerable Bede, a monk who lived in the 7th century.

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Venerable St. Bede

Bede writes,

‘No sooner was he converted than Matthew drew after him a whole crowd of sinners along the same road to salvation. He took up his appointed duties while still taking his first steps in faith…’

Indeed: The Gospel passage tells us, ‘And [Matthew] got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house,
many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples.’ Matthew’s first day on the job, and he’s already packing ’em in!

I was struck by Bede’s insight, because I spent the past weekend on retreat with men from my parish. It was a blessed 65 hours, to say the least. Many of the participants reported that their hearts had been moved by the experience, much like Matthew’s had been when Jesus pointed to him on that fateful day.

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The Conversion of St. Matthew by Caravaggio

As the retreat came to a close, we spent some time talking about ‘what’s next’ for us. Like Matthew, none of us would consider ourselves ‘saints’ – nor would that title likely be conferred on us by those who know us best.

In other words, we’d probably all say we’re not really qualified to be disciples or evangelists. But apparently, that’s not a huge impediment when it comes to spreading the Good News. If Matthew’s experience is any indication, even as complete neophytes we can begin to draw others to the Lord.

As Venerable Bede observes, what matters most…is our willingness to say ‘yes.’

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