The Calling of Saint Matthew,
Painted by Juan de Pareja (1610-1670),
Painted in 1661
Oil on canvas
© Prado Museum, Madrid
Jesus said to Levi the son of Alphaeus: 'Follow Me'.
Jesus went out to the shore of the lake; and all the people came to him, and he taught them. As he was walking on he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus, sitting by the customs house, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.
When Jesus was at dinner in his house, a number of tax collectors and sinners were also sitting at the table with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many of them among his followers. When the scribes of the Pharisee party saw him eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard this he said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners.’
Reflection on the Painting
Our Gospel reading today gives us Mark’s account of the call of Levi, the tax collector. In Matthew’s gospel, he is given the name Matthew, not Levi. What is extraordinary about this account is the fact that Levi converted there and then, upon meeting Jesus. In a matter of moments he went from one way of life to the complete opposite. So the powerful presence of Jesus and the authority with which He spoke the words ‘Follow me’, must have impacted Levi’s heart dramatically. The encounter was transformative. In our lives too, Jesus comes to greet us every day and asks us to transform our hearts. No matter how broken we are or what we’ve been up to, He comes to meet us where we are, and simply asks us to follow Him.
I recently read an interview with Pope Francis, from 2013 (click here to read full interview). The interviewer, Fr Antonio Spadaro, asked Pope Francis the following question: "Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?" Pope Francis answered: "I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition". He continued by saying: “That finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him. Like Matthew. It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, ‘No, not me! No, this money is mine.’ Here, this is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff… I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.”
Our Spanish painting from 1661 by Juan de Pareja shows Christ turning up in the tax office and calling a lavishly dressed Matthew to follow Him. Matthew, with a star above his head, holds one hand to his chest in a gesture conveying ‘Are you calling me?’; his other hand is pointing towards his riches and what he will have to give up. The painter, Juan de Pareja, depicted himself on the far left, standing and holding a note, looking straight at us...
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