Thursday, September 21, 2023

Jesus Calls Matthew… and Each One of Us

Happy Saint Matthew’s Day! It’s time once again for our annual contemplation of “The Call…” painted in 1600 by that Master of Shadows and Light, Michelangelo Merisi da CARAVAGGIO! I am still “shook” by this painting as much as when I first saw the original in Rome, 30 years ago.

The painting expresses something of that great mercy that Jesus brought into the world, that healing mercy, that inexhaustible mercy, God’s mercy. He calls Matthew to follow Him, to stay with Him, to trust in Him. Christ’s mercy penetrates the darkness of Matthew’s life of sin and engenders something new within Matthew’s heart, an attraction that awakens his true desire and draws him to Jesus. In following the call of Jesus, Matthew is converted. 

The Pharisees’ condemnation of their behavior didn’t change sinners or give them hope. What changes them is the presence of Jesus—Mercy incarnate—the Divine Physician, the Savior who calls sinners to follow Him and be freed and made new by His love. 

He calls Matthew the tax collector to be one of the Twelve Apostles, His chosen witnesses for the foundation of the Catholic Christian people. 

He calls each one of us—no matter how messed up we are, no matter what our sins are, no matter how impossible it may seem to us that we might ever change our lives—He calls us all through our time in this world, every day, every moment. With infinite love and mercy, He implores us, He begs us, “Follow me, stay with me, trust in me.” He wants us so much, because He loves us with an immeasurable love. We who wallow in our sins, fixated on ourselves and tying ourselves in knots—what if we allowed ourselves to hear His voice? What if we looked up to see His face? Why not follow Him? He is the One for whom we have been created. He is our happiness and fulfillment. And He is here.

If we stay with Him, we will change, we will be healed and transformed. Mercy opens up within the depths of our souls a new “space” of desire, a hope that He will save us, that we can be with Him forever because He has come to be with us. The more we follow Him, the more He draws us to love Him, and the more we see all of reality in a new way, the true way. The “conversion of Saint Matthew” is the fruit of his encounter with Jesus Christ who calls him. It is enough to say, “he got up and followed Him” (Matthew 9:9).

Thus we read in today’s Gospel:

“As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ He heard this and said, ‘Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners’” (Matthew 9:9-13).