There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish, son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite, a man of wealth. He had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else. Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul's father, had strayed. So Kish said to his son Saul, "Take one of the boys with you; go and look for the donkeys." He passed through the hill country of Ephraim and passed through the land of Shalishah, but they did not find them. And they passed through the land of Shaalim, but they were not there. Then he passed through the land of Benjamin, but they did not find them.
When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord told him, "Here is the man of whom I spoke to you. He it is who shall rule over my people." Then Saul approached Samuel inside the gate, and said, "Tell me, please, where is the house of the seer?" Samuel answered Saul, "I am the seer; go up before me to the shrine, for today you shall eat with me, and in the morning I will let you go and will tell you all that is on your mind.
Samuel took a vial of oil and poured it on his head, and kissed him; he said, "The Lord has anointed you ruler over his people Israel. You shall reign over the people of the Lord and you will save them from the hand of their enemies all around. Now this shall be the sign to you that the Lord has anointed you ruler over his heritage."
O Lord, your strength gives joy to the king;
how your saving help makes him glad!
You have granted him his heart's desire;
you have not refused the prayer of his lips. (R./)
You came to meet him with the blessings of success,
you have set on his head a crown of pure gold.
He asked you for life and this you have given,
days that will last from age to age. (R./)
Your saving help has given him glory.
You have laid upon him majesty and splendour,
you have granted your blessings to him for ever.
You have made him rejoice with the joy of your presence. (R./)
Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him.
And as he sat at dinner in Levi's house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples -- for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" When Jesus heard this, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."
Saint Mark has described for us the call of Levi, the tax collector. In the later gospel of Matthew, the tax collector is called Matthew rather than Levi.
I remember a wonderful painting of the call of Matthew by Caravaggio. He must have seemed an unlikely candidate to join the other disciples. Tax collectors were judged to be very mercenary, and not good Jews. Yet when he was invited, Levi left his customs house and followed Jesus. He did a complete about-turn, and followed a very different way of life.
Something about the personality of Jesus caused a total change in Levi’s life. That personality has the same life-changing power among us today. The most unlikely things can happen to us if we open ourselves to the Lord’s presence and word. Our relationship with Jesus can be a truly transforming experience, moving us towards a more generous way of life.
Each person is called to exercise leadership of one kind or another, by the grace of God. We are meant to inspire other people by our kindness and our love for truth and justice, the leadership qualities to which God calls us. Today’s readings describing the vocations of king Saul and of the apostle Matthew, invite us to reflect on the types of people God calls and the different kinds of leadership they provide.
In king Saul we see the most likely candidate called as a leader, and in Matthew the least likely candidate. Saul was a tall young man, standing head and shoulders above his people, royal in stature. By contrast Matthew, a tax collector under the hated Roman occupiers, was an outcast, barred from synagogue and Temple. He should have had no contact, even at table, with law-abiding fellow-Jews. It is not that Jesus chooses only the riff-raff to become apostles, but rather that He whose word penetrates between soul and spirit, sees the value and potential in people whom others too quickly discard. Others may see in the tax-man Matthew only a half-pagan, friendly with the foreign oppressors, but Jesus recognizes him as a man of compassionate heart, optimistic and kind to others. He was also aware of Matthew’s faults, and in explaining his choice to the grumbling Pharisees, said, “I have come to call sinners, not the self-righteous.”
The prospective leader should see leadership as a form of cooperative service. Genuine leaders need to respect and support the talents in others. After calling Matthew into his little circle, Jesus goes on to dine in Matthew’s home and talk with Matthsfriends and colleagues. Through this sign of respect and companionship, Matthew’s training is already underway, and confidence is established between Christ and his co-worker. This suggests a good ideal of leadership training for all in the Church, especially for our bishops and our pope.