Happy feast day! Today, we celebrate one of the gospel writers, St. Matthew! Formerly a tax collector, Jesus called him out of his luxurious life and into greatness.
Here is the gospel which describes how this calling took place:
9As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. 10While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. 11The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. 13Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
One of the most brilliant pieces of art that depicts this event is by Caravaggio. Jesus is in uncharacteristic darkness (though he has a halo over his head) and points to a group of people seated at a table full of tax collectors, who are in the light that Jesus almost seems to be directing toward them.
These tax collectors and their servants are decked out in anachronistic attire. To the Renaissance viewer, which was when this piece was made, this was the sort of clothing they were used to seeing royalty or the very rich wear, with its fitted clothes and fine fabric. The clothing that Jesus and his disciple, on the other hand, was what a peasant might wear. Yet, Jesus, with His outstretched arm, seems to be the one in power.
Two tax collectors ignore Jesus entirely, too absorbed at looking at some silver coins on the table to care about him. Other younger folks look warily at this man. And St. Matthew, his face shocked, points a finger at his chest as if to ask, “Me?”
It’s a gorgeous piece that speaks to the reality of being called by Christ. Because, often when God calls us, even when we might say that we’re waiting for that call, we’re not listening. Sometimes we can be too absorbed in worldly things to notice Jesus, waiting for us in the darkness. Other times, we might be uncomfortable with what He asks us to do and choose to ignore Jesus. And, even if we are listening and paying attention and ready to do what God calls us to do, no matter what, we often point to ourselves and squeak out, “Me?”
After all, following Jesus is not easy. Following Jesus means to take up your cross and follow Him. And that’s not an easy thing to do — not by a long shot.
And yet, following Christ is a way for us to be called out of our ordinary lives and into greatness. For what can be greater than God?
And what greater pursuit is there in our lives than to pursue greatness? For even under the most luxurious circumstances, we can suffer greatly. We know this — we are living in the richest time in the entire history of humanity, and yet so many people today are suffering. Yet, with all the suffering that can go on and does go on in our lives, we can still be great by answering that call from Christ.
And so, let’s follow St. Matthew’s lead. When Christ calls, let us answer.
Thank You for calling us out of our own self-centered lives and allowing us to help You live out Your gospel. Keep calling us, even when we’re afraid to listen to You. Help us follow You into the greatness of Heaven.