An unlikely apostle
Picture this. Five rich men are seated in a dark room around a table. We can see all of their faces clearly except one young man’s. His face is shadowed, bent down toward the table as he counts his money.
Jesus stands in the doorway. He has just entered the room with one of his disciples. Light streams in from behind and above and shines on the faces of the men. It is as if it followed its Maker there.
The men seem to be thinking, Why is Jesus here? He points to the man who is looking down. His finger is not firmly outstretched the way most people point when they demand something. It is gently curved. Does the man in the shadows know Jesus is there? Or does he just not want to look up?
What I have just described for you is a famous painting called The Calling of St. Matthew by Renaissance master Caravaggio. The man in the shadows is St. Matthew, who became one of Our Lord’s 12 apostles.
Nobody understood why Jesus would pick Matthew. One of the men looks at Our Lord and points at Matthew as if to say, “Him? You want him?” Matthew was a tax collector, which meant that he got rich by cheating his fellow Jews by collecting taxes for their arch enemy, the Romans. Did Jesus know what sort of sinner Matthew was? Of course he did. He knew everything and everyone. He called him anyway and made him a great saint. Later, Matthew would even die for Jesus.
You never know who Jesus is going to call. The painter drives that point home by showing Jesus and his disciple wearing scruffy beards and Bible robes while Matthew and the other rich guys are well groomed and in their modern-day clothes. OK, they’re wearing feathers on top and tights on the bottom and material that looks like upholstery in between — but back in the Renaissance these clothes were like designer suits are today. It is as if Caravaggio is telling modern-day men that they could be called to get up and leave the world just as St. Matthew did. Just look up and meet the gaze of Jesus.
These days the priesthood is not popular because a lot of men have abused it. What do you tell your kids? I tell mine that I’m not about to leave Jesus because of Judas. Judas abused the sacred priesthood. He stayed with Jesus even though he did not believe his teaching on the Holy Eucharist. He stayed because he wanted money. Those who do that to this day are doing the priesthood wrong. It was Matthew and all the other apostles who did priesthood right. They gave up everything they had to follow Our Lord. Thank God there are still many priests who would rather be like Matthew than Judas. They need our prayers and support.
The Sacrament of Holy Orders is a gift from Jesus. He gave it to us, the Church, so that we could receive him in Holy Communion: “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19). He wanted us to have our sins forgiven: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. … Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them” (John 20:21-23). He made it so that we could still have priests in an unbroken line from then on (see Acts 1:23). Why? So that we could stay connected with him, forever. That’s how much he loves us.
SUSIE LLOYD has won three Catholic Press Awards for her writing. Find her books, articles, and speaking schedule at SusieLloyd.com.
PHOTOS: PUBLIC DOMAIN
This article was originally published in Catechist, April-May 2020.