Today's gospel reading was the "Call of Matthew." He was a tax collector near the Sea of Galilee. Jesus passed by his tax booth, stopped and said: "Follow me." And he got up and followed him (Mark 2:13).
Tax collectors were among the least favorite people in Israel in Jesus' day. They collected taxes for the oppressors, the Romans, from their own people. To turn a profit, most tax collectors added a "surcharge" to the government tax to line their own pockets. Caravaggio painted a colorful picture of Jesus calling Levi or Matthew. In the painting a youthful Matthew stands up to follow Jesus. At the same time an older greedy looking fellow reaches to help himself to the coins Matthew leaves behind. Matthew chose the "better part" of following Jesus. Jesus must have had a truly magnetic personality to draw hard-working fishermen Andrew, Peter, James and John to follow him. Matthew was so delighted to be one of Jesus followers that he threw a party. (See Mark 2:15--17). Matthew's social life was probably spent with other tax collectors, and sure enough at the party he threw for Jesus there were tax collectors and other "sinners" who to varying degrees did not follow the stricter observances of Mosaic Law. Some of the folks who were more observant of the Law and the many accretions added to the official Law of Moses questioned why Jesus was even associating with tax-collectors and other such ilk.
Jesus who seems to have been enjoying his festive meal at Matthew's house, answered his critics directly: "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." (Mark 2:17).
In times of quiet reflection we can take an honest look at ourself, good points and flaws. St. Ignatius of Loyola is famous for many things. One is that he is founder of the world-wide men's order called The Jesuits. Another feat that Ignatius accomplished was a plan for "Spiritual Exercises." The Exercises can last up till 30 days. One exercise which Ignatius perfected was the Examen Prayer. Many books explain this type of prayer. One of these is a Pauline edition written by a Jesuit Father Rupnik, titled The Examen Prayer.
Looking over the past 24 hours we acknowledge the good thoughts, our good deeds and movements of grace we received especially from yesterday to today. Some of those thoughts or inspirations urged us to do a particular good deed, to do someone a favor, or to refrain from a particular comment. We make a mental note of these graces and say "thank you" to the /Divine Master. Then we ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten us to see how we welcomed those graces and insights. Or, did we flick them away quicker than we swat a fly?
We take note of our failures and downright sins. It can be hard to look at our true self, but St. Teresa of Avila tells us that we should keep our focus on Jesus and his mercy, not on our miseries. Jesus lifts us out of those miseries. We humbly admit our failings or negligences to the Lord, ask his pardon and resolve to do better. Then we pray for light and strength to keep on following Jesus in our daily life. Matthew's call changed him from a tax collector to a disciple and apostle of Jesus. Our call may not be so dramatic, but it is just as demanding: to follow Jesus example in my daily life. As St. Paul said, "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ."
Father Rupnik, a Jesuit spiritual director as well as an accomplished artist gives excellent pointers in his book: Human Frailty, Divine Redemption from Pauline Books & Media. Father Tim Gallagher a member of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary has a whole series on Ignatian Prayer including one called: The Examen Prayer. That title is also available at the Pauline Books & Media web store, and at our various Pauline Book & Media centers. Until tomorrow may the Lord enlighten you and give you peace.