From Homily 30 on St. Matthew, 1 (ca. 386-388)
But why did he say he was sitting at the receipt of custom? To indicate the power of he who called him, that it was not when he had left off or forsaken this wicked trade, but from the midst of the evils he drew him up. This is similar to how he converted the blessed Paul also when frantic and raging, and darting fire; which he himself makes a proof of the power of him that called him, saying to the Galatians, “You have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God” (Gal. 1:13)
And the fishermen too he called when they were in the midst of their business. But that was a craft not held to be wicked, but one pursued by men rather rudely bred, not mingling with others, and endowed with great coarseness. The pursuit of tax collecting, though, was one full of all insolence and boldness, and a method of gain for which no honest account could be given. It was a shameless traffic, a robbery under cloak of law; yet nevertheless he who uttered the call was ashamed of none of these things.
And do I talk of Jesus’ not being ashamed of a publican? Since even in the case of a prostitute, so far from being ashamed to call her, he actually permitted her to kiss his feet, and to moisten them with her tears (Luke 7:38)
Yea, for this purpose he came, not to cure bodies only, but to heal likewise the wickedness of the soul. He did this in the case of the paralytic immediately before. Having shown clearly that he is able to forgive sins, then, not beforehand, he comes to him of whom we are now speaking; that they might no more be troubled at seeing a publican chosen into the choir of the disciples. For he that has power to undo all our offenses, why marvel if he even makes this man an apostle?
But as you have seen the power of Him that called, so consider also the obedience of him that was called: how he neither resisted, nor disputing said, “What is this? Is it not indeed a deceitful calling, wherewith he calls me, being such as I am?”
Nay; for this kind of humility would have been out of season: but he obeyed straightway, and did not even request to go home, and to communicate with his relations about this matter; as neither indeed did the fishermen; but as they left their net and their ship and their father, so did he his receipt of custom and his gain, and followed, exhibiting a mind prepared for all things; and breaking himself at once away from all worldly things, by his complete obedience he bore witness that he who called him had chosen a good time.
St. John Chrysostom (ca. 347-407) was Archbishop of Constantinople, and one of the greatest preachers of his era. He is traditionally counted among the Four Great Doctors of the Eastern Church. The Homilies on St. Matthew date from his ministry in his native Antioch, and are fine examples of literal interpretation in the tradition of that city’s school. His feast day is September 13. The text has been slightly adapted for modern readers.