Today’s Gospel passage takes place immediately after Jesus heals the crippled man, following His forty day fast in the desert. Jesus encounters a tax collector, Levi, whom we also know as St. Matthew, the author of the first Gospel. Jesus says two words to Matthew — “Follow Me” — and immediately, Matthew “got up and followed [H]im,” “leaving everything behind.”
This leaving everything behind echoes back to the opening lines of today’s reading from the Prophet Isaiah: “If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;… Then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.” Christ’s call to follow Him does not involve a mere leaving behind of material things. While it is true that St. Matthew leaves behind his job, money, and friends to follow Jesus, there is a deeper, metaphysical “leaving behind” present here as well.
The Scribes and Pharisees looked down on the tax collectors, because they were known to collect more money than necessary from the citizens for their personal gain. Tax collectors were known as “sinners,” generally believed to live perverse lives. Yet Jesus calls one such man to be one of His Twelve Apostles, and St. Matthew, in turn, freely chooses to leave behind his sinful way of life and live a new life as a disciple of Christ.
In this passage, Christ again shows Himself to be the Divine Physician. Just as He healed the crippled man, Jesus offers healing to the broken soul of St. Matthew, who chooses to accept this grace and leave behind his former sinful ways. On this first Saturday in the season of Lent, let us examine our own lives and discern what we must leave behind in order to more fully live in the life of grace that Christ offers us.