Have you ever noticed that Saint Matthew’s name is missing an H above the 47th Street door inside St. Francis de Sales Church?
It is ironic – or appropriate — that Saint Matthew should be victim of a typo, since he is the Gospel-writing Evangelist whose chronicle is thought to represent the “human” side of Christ; and spelling mistakes are pretty human! Matthew, whose Evangelist symbol is the “Winged Man” shown on one of the triangular pendentives that support the dome, begins his Gospel with a litany of Jesus’ earthly family lineage through Joseph. His writing stresses the Jewish background and human nature of Jesus.
Matthew is both Evangelist and Apostle. As an Apostle, his symbol is the tax collector’s bag (shown near the parking lot door), since his profession before becoming a follower of Jesus, was that of publican, collecting taxes for the occupying Roman forces. Tax collectors in those times were allowed to collect as much extra money as they dared for themselves, once they had extracted the amount required by the government, so they were despised for greed and feared for extortion. And to the Jewish people, tax collectors were complicit with the Romans, which was considered particularly awful (though Jesus did remind his followers to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” so he was not against funding the government!)
According to Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus was criticized for associating with undesirables. When Pharisees asked Matthew “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus replied “Those who are well have no need of a physician… I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mt 9:11-13). Jesus came to minister to those in need, not to praise the smug and judgmental. And he supports and stands by those who follow him: the quote above our door reminds us that Jesus vowed “I am with you all days, even to the consummation (end!) of the world...”
In many cultures and times, it has been a tradition purposely to insert an error in an artistic work to acknowledge that God alone is perfect. The spelling error in our otherwise magnificent interior is likely to be a genuine mistake, but it still reminds us that the church is a place for imperfect people to find hope in trying to connect with something greater than themselves. And we are all imperfect – no room for complacency – with every reason to be welcoming to all.