In today’s gospel reading we meet a tax-collector called Matthew, previously known as Levi. I like him. His life before encountering Jesus was probably a bit worldly with a view of reality distorted by attachment to earthly possessions.
Pope Francis has said that one of his favourite works of art is Caravaggio‘s calling of this man Matthew.
Last year I was able to spend some time at the church of San Luigi dei Frances in Rome where this painting (largely due to Pope Francis’ promotion) has become the central attraction.
While crowds flock to see the painting, the chapel and especially the area around this great work of art is a place of prayer. People are captivated by the image and it is difficult to remain a spectator when in the presence of the painting which demands active and personal participation. The viewer quickly becomes the one called into the heart of the action.
In the words of Pope Francis:
Speaking about the encounter brings to mind “The calling of St Matthew”, the Caravaggio in the Church of St Louis of the French, which I used to spend much time in front of every time I came to Rome. None of them who were there, including Matthew, greedy for money, could believe the message in that finger pointing at him, the message in those eyes that looked at him with mercy and chose him. He felt this astonishment of the encounter. The encounter with Christ who comes and invites us is like this.
It is easy to think of the call of God as a once-in-a-lifetime event. A young Christian might ponder what God might be calling them to as a life choice or vocation. I think it is more helpful to understand the call of God not as a big moment that might happen once or twice in a lifetime, but as the love of God which entices us with the constancy of a magnet.
When we are feeling strong and confident we have no sense of our need for Christ. However when we are sick and vulnerable, when we are aware of our sin, we are able to hear the gentle call of Jesus, and like St. Matthew, we recognise that our healthiness and happiness is found only when when we follow the giver of all life.
As we read in today’s gospel:
The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying,
“Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.
I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”
Some of the reflections on the painting along the walls of the chapel: