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.”
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.”
Mark gives us a brief, dramatic account of the call of Levi, the tax collector. In the later gospel of Matthew, this man is named Matthew rather than Levi. Some of you may be familiar with the portrait of the call of Matthew by Caravaggio, one of my favourite paintings. It shows the utter astonishment of the tax-collector, on being called to become a companion of the wandering preacher, Jesus.
Levi or Matthew would have seemed an unlikely enough candidate to be a disciple snf s preacher of the Gospel. Tax collectors or toll-gate collectors were considered to be very mercenary, with good reason. Yet this particular tax-man got up from his customs house and followed Jesus. He did a complete about-turn, from a commercial lifestyle to a completely different way of life. Something about the presence and the word of Jesus, 'Follow me', brought about a complete transformation in Levi's spirit. The presence and the word of the Lord continue to have the same transforming power among us today. The most unlikely things can happen in our own lives when we open ourselves fully to the power of the Lord's presence and word. Our relationship with the risen Lord always has the potential to be a truly transforming experience, moving us towards an ever 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 person, and in Matthew the least likely person, called to leadership among God's people. Saul was a tall young man of royal stature, who stook head and shoulders above his people. By contrast Matthew, a tax collector under the hated Roman occupation , was an outcast from synagogue and Temple. He was barred from all contact, even at table, with law-abiding fellow-Jews. 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."
Of all the norms for leadership, the most basic is a desire to share our gifts by leading. Leaders ought to recognize and support the good qualities in others. After calling Matthew into his little circle, Jesus also dines in Matthew's home with his friends and colleagues. Matthew's training is already underway, friendship is being deepened, confidence being established. What a model of leadership to be followed by all in the Church, but above all by the bishops and the pope.