July 8 – Saturday of the Fifth Week after Pentecost Matthew 9:9-13
Commitment to Healing: Matthew 9:9-13, especially vs. 12: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” This saying of Jesus, along with the rest of today’s Gospel, reveals that life in Christ is a healing process. Our healing, however, begins only after we obey His commands (vs. 9). Saint Matthew offers a prime example of one who committed to be healed, for he quits his tax office and follows the itinerant Teacher when Jesus commands him to follow. When we reflect carefully on Saint Matthew’s response, we learn what our Savior asks of us concerning our commitment to Him and its relationship to healing.
First of all, to embrace healing demands courage. According to Saint Nikolai of Zicha, “to him who has truly begun to live . . . all that happens [is] for his help and to the glory of God” (Prologue From Ochrid vol. 3, p. 357). Saint Matthew’s commitment does not spring from a magic spell cast by the Lord, nor does he leave his work behind on a whim. He, like most of the future apostles, initially works while learning from and about the Lord Jesus. Then, when this introduction is complete, Christ calls the apostles to follow Him full time. Matthew is one of the called who obeys.
This disciple’s courage can best understood in the context of his life. He was a tax collector, pursuing an occupation regarded with venomous hatred by the people of first-century Palestine – and with good reason. When Galilee and Judea were annexed into the imperial Roman revenue system, the common people were forced to sell their traditional, communal lands in order to pay taxes. Literally pauperized by the tax collectors, God’s people were losing the Holy Land given to them by God.
The chief officer of this infamous financial system was the Roman procurator. His collectors were assigned quotas in each community and allowed to keep for themselves an unspecified percentage of what they collected. In this process they had the support of the Roman military. The tax collecting trade was so lucrative that its positions often were auctioned to the highest bidder, but the populace considered the tax collectors to be traitors and apostates.
Paradoxically, our commitment to the Lord Jesus in order to gain healing often begins with pain. To be widely hated, despised, and rejected, as Matthew undoubtedly was, is an isolating and dispiriting experience. However, Matthew’s rejection turns into a blessing when Christ meets him in his true spiritual state. His social status serves to ready him to turn fully to God.
Indeed, Saint Matthew’s commitment to follow Christ becomes a clear act of repentance. “Repentance is a contract with God for a second life. . . . the daughter of hope and the renunciation of despair” (Saint John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent 5.1, p. 54). Whatever our reasons, as soon as we realize our inadequacy and commit ourselves to Christ, we commit to true healing – to the restoration of our humanity and to salvation.
The healing which follows from repentance comes through communion with God. “Jesus sat at table in the house . . . [and] behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him” (vs. 10). “The salvation of the soul is. . . . chiefly communion and union with Christ” through our fellowship with Him (Vlachos, Orthodox Psychotherapy, 158). “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him” (Jn 6:56).
“For this reason, we . . . approach the table frequently, for we, from time to time, offend against God since we are human,” says Nicholas Cabisalas. “But such as seek to cancel the indictment stand in need of penitence, effort, and triumph over sin. Yet this they will not achieve without adding the only remedy against man’s sins . . . Christ infuses Himself into us . . . This ointment can do such great things to those who fall into it” (The Life in Christ, p. 121, 123).
O Christ my God, may I partake of Thine all-holy Body and precious Blood for the sanctification, enlightenment, and strengthening of my wretched soul and body. – Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom