Caravaggio’s masterpiece The Calling of Saint Matthew pictures Matthew as an older man engaged in counting money from his tax collecting. He has just realized Jesus is summoning him to become His disciple, and he’s pointing to himself as if to say, “Who, me?” His face, upon which the painting is focused, reflects surprise and spiritual awakening.
We don’t know how Matthew himself would have painted this scene, but we do know the story in his own words direct from his Gospel. He presented this episode as a kind of template for what it means to cast off one’s old life, separate from the world, and instead follow Jesus. Having been in Capernaum for some time, Jesus and Matthew most likely knew each other already. Jesus’ call was probably the climax of a building relationship (v. 9). Tax collectors were viewed by their fellow Jews as Roman collaborators or even traitors. They were also corrupt. For Jesus to call a tax collector to join His chosen disciples shattered a number of social taboos.
Matthew’s immediate instinct was to share the good news with his friends, who were of course other tax collectors (v. 10). This no doubt raised the ire of the Pharisees who condemned Jesus for sharing meal fellowship with these social outcasts, as if they were close friends (v. 11). Jesus’ classic response points out that just as it is the sick who need a doctor, it is sinners who need a Savior (vv. 12–13). This is the first step in understanding the gospel— to recognize oneself as a spiritually dead sinner.
Jesus also boldly told the Pharisees to go and learn Hosea 6:6: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” They needed to forsake their pride and “expertise” and learn God’s loving heart, as seen throughout the Old Testament and here in Jesus’ choosing of Matthew.
>> Do you know any sinners in need of a Savior? If yes, pray for an opportunity to share the gospel with them this week. If not, pray for a new friend!
Some of the harshest truths convey the greatest joy. Confessing that we were helpless, hopeless sinners, we entered the eternal joy of salvation. Help us bring the stinging, joyful truth of the gospel to others!