Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hasten to follow

The Calling of St. Matthew
Readings for Tuesday, September 21/Feast of St. Matthew:
Ephesians 4:1-7,11-13
Psalm 19:2-5
Matthew 9:9-13

When I was in college seminary doing my philosophy studies, we had to take a few other classes to meet the requirements for our liberal arts degree, one of which was Art History. At the beginning of the course she showed a slideshow of paintings and asked us to comment on each one. Afterward, we were told that we’d be assigned a presentation on one of the pieces. Well, I think she wanted to have some fun with me because the piece I was assigned was not appealing to me in the least little bit at first. In fact, my comment I turned in was something to the effect of “It’s way too dark. I can’t tell what anything is. Probably one of the worst ones in the whole show.” And tada! That’s the one I got. What I soon found was that it was a painting by Michaelangelo Caravaggio entitled “The Calling of St. Matthew”.

This painting, which depicts the story from the gospel tonight, is really striking once it is properly understood. On the left are five figures around a table. On the right are two men standing. The two men are St. Peter and the Lord Jesus, who is pointing at one of the men at the table. The interesting this is the body language of the five men at the table. One is seeming to reach for his sword – a sign of violence opposition. One is staring in the direction of Christ but apparently unconcerned about what is happening. A third appears to be unaware of Christ’s presence in the room; he is simply concerned with the money on the table. The fourth is one who seems to be intentionally ignoring the Lord, his heard down so as to be unable to see Him. But the fifth, he is pointing to himself, with a shocked look on his face. This fifth figure is the person of St. Matthew at the moment he is called by Christ to follow. And if you look carefully in the picture, it seems as though his legs are already in motion to get up. This really struck me because it gets at the point of the gospel passage. Let us look at it again. It says “Jesus pass 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.” Just that quickly – he got up and followed Christ. He wasn’t violently opposed, he wasn’t unconcerned, he wasn’t unaware, he wasn’t intentionally oblivious. He was open to the call, and with haste he moved.

As we honor St. Matthew today, pray for the grace always to have hearts like his, open to the call of the Lord and willing to act with haste in following.