Friends, today’s Gospel tells the story of the Lord calling Levi, also known as Matthew. As Jesus was passing by, he spotted Matthew at his tax collector’s post. To be a tax collector in Jesus’ time—a Jew collaborating with Rome’s oppression of one’s own people—was to be a contemptible figure.
Jesus gazed at Matthew and simply said, “Follow me.” Did Jesus invite Matthew because the tax collector merited it? Was Jesus responding to a request from Matthew or some longing in the sinner’s heart? Certainly not. Grace, by definition, comes unbidden and without explanation.
In Caravaggio’s magnificent painting of this scene, Matthew, dressed anachronistically in sixteenth-century finery, responds to Jesus’ summons by pointing incredulously to himself and wearing a quizzical expression, as if to say, “Me? You want me?”Just as creation is ex nihilo, so conversion is a new creation, a gracious remaking of a person from the nonbeing of his sin. Matthew, we are told, immediately got up and followed the Lord.