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Having a home for Christ

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, September 22, 2005

Yesterday the Catholic Church celebrated the Feast of St. Matthew, one of Jesus’ apostles and a martyr for the faith. Also called “Levi” in the gospel accounts of Mark and Luke, Matthew worked as a tax collector until he met Jesus. According to Matthew’s gospel (the author may or may not have been the same Matthew as the apostle), Jesus simply said to Matthew, “Follow me.” Matthew immediately left his tax collector’s post and hosted Jesus at his home for dinner.

Others joined them, people we only know now as “tax collectors and sinners.” Those two questionable titles would have been nearly interchangeable during Jesus’ time, as the tax collectors not only worked for the hated Roman occupiers, but also apparently made a habit of overcharging and helping themselves to the extras. The ever-alert Pharisees promptly registered their offense at such a dinner party, asking the disciples why their teacher so willingly dined with known reprobates. Jesus responded, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick … For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners,” (Matthew 9:9-13).

Jesus’ response ought to come as a relief to each of us, as we can be reassured that we all certainly fall into the category of “those he has come to call.” What I find intriguing about the gospel passage, however, is that not only did Matthew get right up and follow Jesus; he welcomed Jesus into his home and hosted a party for him. It’s a much more active image than simply following Christ: Matthew had such an interest in making Jesus a part of his life that he took the initiative to welcome this stranger into his community with a meal.

I’ve been asking myself since hearing this gospel passage, “Do I have a home for Christ?” Have I created an atmosphere in my life in which I can not only follow Jesus, but in fact even take more initiative than that? How do I physically, concretely welcome Christ into my home and life? Towards the end of Matthew’s gospel, the very challenging Chapter 25 (which we will read as a Church in November, on the last three Sundays of this Church year) asks these same questions through three parables describing the Kingdom of God. In each, people are asked to take the initiative to prepare themselves for Christ: bridesmaids must stock up on oil for their lamps; servants must invest their master’s talents; and each of us must give food, drink and welcome to the poor, as those least ones are Christ himself.

Perhaps if you live on campus you’re reading this in your small, crowded room – or in the large, crowded dining hall – wondering how in either setting you could welcome Jesus and host a decent and hospitable dinner party. No need to worry (or feel yourself let off the hook, either). We can certainly each create a home for Christ in our hearts, a simple traveling home that stays with us through the attitude we bring to our daily lives. Matthew was just sitting there doing his job. We may just be sitting at our own version of the tax collector’s post when we will encounter Christ. Will we stand up and allow our lives to be changed? Will we even take the initiative to create a new community where none existed before?

Jesus must have known the potential present in Matthew’s heart, some spark of faith that only needed the right prompt (“Follow me.”) to leap into life. As baptized believers, we have already received this spark of faith. Hopefully, many varied encounters with Christ have enlivened our faith throughout our lives. Just as hospitable hosts keep their homes “company ready,” however, we must consistently search for ways to keep our hearts prepared to be a home for Christ. Let’s make sure that we take Jesus’ words to each of us, “Follow me,” to heart in the full, active way that Matthew did.

Kate Barrett is the Director of Resources and Special Projects for Campus Ministry. She can be contacted at Barrett.28@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.