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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Meditation for Sunday: What Did St. Matthew Mean When He Said Treat Someone Like a Gentile or Tax Collector?

The Calling of St. Matthew by Caravaggio
It's easy to misunderstand scripture. When I was a child, I thought St. Paul's saying that prayer "heaped coals on the heads" of sinners meant you called down fire and brimstone on them like on the sinners of Sodom and Gomorrah. Only later did I learn that he was actually talking about calling down the fire of the Holy Spirit to convert their hearts.

Today's gospel from Matthew is another passage that's easy to misunderstand. We are all called to admonish each other and Jesus tells us the right way to do it. If your brother sins against you, go privately and talk to him. If he won't listen, take another brother and challenge him together. If he still won't listen, take him to the Church (the doctrine). At that point if he won't listen, Jesus says, "Treat him like a Gentile or tax collector."

Hmm...what does that mean?

Remember who is writing this passage -- Matthew. Who was Matthew? The tax collector, a despised member of the Jewish community, reviled by the Pharisees and teachers of the law. And who are the Gentiles? Outsiders, non-Jews -- not equal to the chosen people. Think of the Pharisees who condemned Jesus because he ate with sinners and tax collectors. And think of Jesus responding that sinners were getting into heaven ahead of them.

So could Jesus possibly be telling His followers to shun tax collectors and Gentiles, to throw them under the bus so to speak?

Is that what He did to Matthew? Or the Roman centurion? Or the Gentile woman who came to beg for Him to heal her daughter and showed such faith when He said it wasn't right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs?

Not hardly!

After all, Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector, to be one of His inner circle. He admired and praised the faith of Gentiles who showed faith in Him. Of several He said, "I haven't seen such faith in Israel." And remember that the people targeted by Jesus' great commission sending his disciples out to teach and baptize all nations were primarily Gentiles.

So what does this passage mean? What did Jesus intend when He said to treat the sinner like a tax collector or Gentile? Well, in my opinion He was telling them to treat the sinner like one ignorant of the faith. Pray for them, evangelize, and witness. Forgive them "seventy times seven," in other words always, and to continue patiently working to bring them into the kingdom.

Jesus doesn't want to lose anyone. When I think of His patience with me, I know He wants me to have that same patience for my brothers and sisters. So today I'm praying for the Lord to give me the grace to forgive those who have sinned against me. May I show the same love that He showed to tax collectors, sinners, and Gentiles and never stop acting with love toward those who have offended me. And may he remind me of all those I've sinned against to make me humble and give me a repentant and forgiving heart.

O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine.


Roe Antinore said...

What a wonderful analysis. I never thought about it this way. Treat them like the Gentiles or tax collectors, meaning, pray for them and show them by example the right path.

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Thanks Roe, I hadn't thought of that myself until the priest said something about it not meaning "three strikes and your out" today. It got me thinking about what the passage really meant. He also stressed the significance of Matthew the tax collector being the gospel writer to include this incident. So it all just came together for me. It was kind of an "Aha!" moment.