We have all watched sports on TV at one time or another. Maybe you have been watching the NBA Finals between the Celtics and the Lakers. You probably watched the Red Sox win the World Series this past fall, or the New England Patriots in their remarkable season last year (if you are lucky, you didn’t watch the Super Bowl; I still have nightmares about that game).
Certainly many of us have played sports in high school or maybe we squeeze in a little golf on the weekends. But there is nothing quite like watching the pros on TV: To see Tiger Woods drive a golf ball 375 yards, straight as an arrow, and land it right in the middle of the fairway; or to watch Tom Brady throw 15 straight completions, never once missing his intended receivers.
We watch those players and we think to ourselves:
They really make it look easy! They are so good, it must be like second nature to them. It seems like no effort at all.
But we know that is far from the truth.
The reason they are so good is because they spend hours and hours, day in and day out, faithfully practicing and striving for perfection. They have been given a gift from God, a remarkable talent and ability to be sure, but they have chosen to respond well to that gift. It may look easy to us, but there is a lot going on beneath the surface.
The gospel we listen to this weekend—the Calling of St. Matthew—is something quite like that.
St. Matthew is one of the original Twelve Apostles. He is also a martyr, one who was killed for his faith in Jesus Christ. Matthew is one of the “four evangelists,” one of the four great gospel writers (along with Mark, Luke and John).
And even though Matthew was a tax collector—tax collectors were despised by their fellow Jews, for they worked in league with the Roman government and often swindled their own people for a living—Christ walks right into that customs post this morning and calls Matthew to follow Him.
Matthew’s response is automatic:
He got up and followed him.
All that temptation, so much power and money, and he just got up, walked away and became a saint. Matthew makes it look easy! But of course there is a lot more to the story than that.
We know at least three things for a fact that Matthew did, things that we should be striving for on a daily basis; three things that could help each of us to become saints.
[That is the goal of the Christian life, by the way: to be holy men and women of God, to be saints. No matter what our sins, shortcomings or weaknesses may be, and no matter what the world we live in says about how difficult it is to follow the commandments and live according to the teachings of our faith, we are called to be holy. Ask St. Matthew]
Firstly, as we hear in the gospel this weekend, when Christ called Matthew, “He got up” (Matthew 9:9). It is such a short phrase, but it tells us so much. He did not remain in the midst of the temptations and the situation that had separated him from his brothers and sisters and probably God as well. He got up. He got up and got out of the way of sin. Do we?
In our own lives, do we get up and get out of the way of the things that entangle us in sin and separate us from God and each other?
When we are watching TV, and suddenly something comes on the screen that we know we should not be watching, do we get up and get out of the way of sin by switching the channel?
When we are engaged in a conversation with a friend or with a group of people and suddenly the conversation gets dark; when someone’s reputation is being damaged or when the topic turns vulgar; when these things happen do we have the courage and the strength to get up and get out of the way of sin? Do we change the subject or leave the conversation?
It could be any of these things. It could be a bad habit, or a relationship that is taking us further away from God and the teachings of our faith. Like St. Matthew, we have to get up and get out of the way of sin when Jesus Christ calls us.
Secondly, we know that after Matthew “got up,” he immediately “followed [Christ]” (Matthew 9:9). Again, it is a short phrase, but speaks volumes. Matthew walked with Christ. He followed the example and teachings of Jesus Christ.
As Christians we need to do so much more than just avoid evil. Many people avoid evil and stay out of trouble, but they are not good Christians because they simply do what they want to do, or what feels good, or what everyone else is doing. They do not truly follow Christ. Do we?
One of my favorite passages from the Second Vatican Council, and one I have quoted many different times, beautifully describes the life of Christ and outlines well what we should be doing as His followers. It says:
“Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”
—Gaudium et Spes, #24
By nature, we are creatures who are fulfilled only by giving to others: our families, those around us, and most especially, God Himself. That is what Christ did. He poured Himself out for us all on the cross so that we could be forgiven and have the hope of eternal life. He gave everything to God and to others in complete generosity, thinking lastly of Himself. That is what we are called to do as His followers. That is what St. Matthew began to do the day he left the customs post and never looked back.
Finally, we know not only that Matthew “got up,” and got out of the way of sin, that he “followed [Christ],” but also that he proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ.
St. Matthew paid attention! He paid attention to the way Christ treated him with such compassion and mercy; he paid attention to the way that Christ worked in the lives of others and to the truths that He taught and lived so well. Matthew saw all of this, he observed it and reflected on it, and then he wrote it down! He shared with the people of his culture and the world around him this good news about who God is and all the things He has done. We, some 2000 years later, are still listening to what he has to say.
We may not all be called to proclaim the gospel in the same way as St. Matthew. The great Italian poverello, St. Francis of Assisi, was known to have said that we should “proclaim the gospel always and everywhere, and—when necessary—use words.”
We proclaim the gospel whenever we live our lives vibrantly for Christ. We proclaim the gospel by our Christian witness in the everyday circumstances of life at work, in our homes and friendships. And at times, it is necessary that we use words. We should always be ready to put into words what God is doing in our lives and in the lives of those around us.
Avoiding evil, following Christ by giving generously of ourselves to God and others, and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. Are we able to devote ourselves to these practices each day, week after week? If so, perhaps some day the people who know us best will look at our lives and say:
That man or that woman really knew what it meant to follow Christ. They really lived the gospel well. And do you know what?
They made it look easy!