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Even Tax Collectors Have a Place in Heaven

Publican and the Pharisee from Orthodox.net“O God, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican.” (Lk 18:11) So what exactly was a publican that he was grouped with these others? To put it bluntly, he was a traitor to the Jews. He was a Jew who became a Roman tax collector. But worse than just collecting taxes for an occupying country, he received his “pay” from the extra he collected on top of what the law required.  It’s really no wonder that the publicans were regularly grouped with the worst of sinners when they were mentioned in the Bible. The pharisees faulted Jesus for eating with publicans (Matt 9:11) but it was these lowest of the low who believed John and followed Jesus and whom Jesus said would enter Heaven before the Pharisees because they had believed and repented (Matt 21:31-32). On Saturday we celebrate the Feast of St. Matthew, the most famous publican in history. Jesus saw him at his tax collecting table and simply said “Follow me.” St. Matthew, then called Levi, immediately became a follower of Christ.  St. Matthew wrote the first Gospel and wrote it in Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke. If you saw Passion of the Christ, you heard Aramaic throughout the movie. Even though Matthew became a follower of Christ, he always recognized his own sinfulness and referred to himself as a publican in his own Gospel. After the death of Jesus, St. Matthew traveled to Egypt and Ethiopia to preach the Gospel and may have gone further east.  St. Matthew is the patron of tax collectors, bankers, accountants and security guards. You will typically see him depicted in art holding a bag of coins or with an ink well. From the Mass for St. Matthew: “O God, who with untold mercy were pleased to choose as an Apostle Saint Matthew, the tax collector, grant that, sustained by his example and intercession, we may merit to hold firm in following you. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”


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