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"Follow Like Jesus" 2nd Sunday After Pentecost - June 11, 2023

There’s this painting by the artist Caravaggio titled The Calling of St. Matthew. Sometimes his Baroque era paintings seem like the precursor to those classic film noir classics of the late 40’s and early 50’s – dramatic use of shadows and light, the stark and startled expressions on the faces of his subjects, the underlying tension in many of his works…it’s all there. Like the Maltese Falcon circa 1599.

And The Calling of St. Matthew is no different. Jesus’ hand emerging from the shadow of the room, reaching toward a table of surprised faces. Most assume Matthew in the painting is the bearded man…with the classic saintly face pointing toward himself…like “ME???” But, I think it’s someone else…There’s a young man at the table…slumped over a pile of coins, disheveled hair, his eyes are tired, hung-over, maybe even sad. He’s not paying attention to Jesus…his mind somewhere else. And the bearded man who some think is pointing to himself saying, “ME???” I like to think is pointing to this lost, disheveled, greedy soul saying, “HIM???”

Which captures this dynamic in the calling of St. Matthew – this underlying element of “Why in the world would you want him, Jesus? Don’t you know who that is? The tax collector? Really?”

But Jesus didn’t just call him…he did something else. He changed his name…or at least that’s how the tradition understands it. He changed his name. This was Levi the tax collector…and you can imagine the nicknames and slurs….Levi the crook…Levi the swindler…Levi the traitor…the thief…the wolf… His job was to set up a booth on the shores of Galilee and tax the sandals right off the fishermen’s feet. What kind of a man would do that to his own people? Hard working men and women, trying to put food on the table, trying to care for their families. Oh…you can hear the comments…”Levi…we grew up together, played together, our families broke bread together, don’t you remember…?? We sat together in synagogue, made fun of the rabbis when they’re back was turned…how could you Levi?” It took a different level of greed and malice to be that person…to TAKE from your own like that.

Which is why…it was so absurd, so unreasonable, so…risky…to not only call Levi the tax collector…but to change his name to Matthew.